This is not a straight fic – but a transcript of a Role Play between myself and ‘givemeyourwings’. It is in progress and unedited lmao.
Helen Magnus: givemeyourwings
Nikola Tesla: ellymelly
Nikola wasn’t usually one for crowds and bustling streets – but he always made an exception for Rome in the spring – especially the decaying corners of Old Rome where ancient buildings crumbled around the growing flocks of pigeons, picking over the cobblestone pathways that trailed in and out of promising shops.
He wasn’t braving this onslaught of people for nothing – Nikola was busily hunting for a very particular artefact – and was quite startled when he caught sight of a distinctive leather jacket strolling down the opposite side of the narrow lane way – almost lost among the other shoppers.
Instinctively, he fell against a shopfront, trying to hide in its shadow.
It wasn’t as though Helen was simply doing the tourist thing, either. She’d been to Rome enough to have seen all the usual attractions long ago. No, the day found her among the throng of people dotting the streets with a more pressing purpose. If memory served correctly, there was an old book shop just nearby wherein one could find all manner of strange and wonderful texts. Helen happened to on a mission to that very place. Had the crowd been less dense, Tesla’s sudden movement across the way would’ve caught her attention. For now, she remained unaware of his nearness.
Nikola remained pressed up against the glass of the store, contemplating his escape until he was prodded sharply by a very displeased Italian.
“Move along MOVE ALONG!!!” the shop keeper all but shouted in a thick Italian accent.
Nikola obliged at once, leaping back into the crowd and straight into the oncoming path of one Dr Helen Magnus.
That’s one way to get her attention. Helen tried to shift her weight in time to avoid crashing into him, but to no avail. After the rough collision, she stepped back, brushing her hair form her line of sight. A polite ‘excuse me’ began to form on her lips, though the words stopped short when her eyes fixed on him.
Not the entrance he’d been trying to make… Nikola thought to himself, hoping she hadn’t noticed his suspiciously nervous appearance.
It was probably too late to duck past her and back into the crowd – Helen was one who usually gave chase in those cases and he certainly didn’t want to be chased unceremoniously through the streets of Rome.
Instead, he settled on a quiet, “Afternoon…” as he brushed a few smears of dust from his unseasonal suit.
The crowd continued to shove past them, knocking Helen and Nikola closer to the marble building towering above the street.
Not to worry. Helen’s more concerned with the fact that Tesla’s right there than his out-of-date attire or his less-than-smooth entrance. The push of the crowd jostled her where she stood, though she made no effort at all to move, only a little more to hide her surprise.
Oh, yes, she’s surprised to see him. While Helen’s able to mask just how surprised, a hint of the emotion colours her expression. Her head canted slightly to one side, brows lifting in an expectant sort of look. “Nikola,” muttered in greeting.
He gracefully recovered his dignity and looked her over – oh yes, definitely the one and only immortal Ms Magnus looking just as out of place as him and ever so slightly flustered.
“Curious…” Nikola said, nudging an annoying tourist out of his way. “I wasn’t aware you were travelling at the present time,” his tone may have been mocking but Nikola’s eyes betrayed his sincerity, “with the Cabal so keen for revenge.”
A single eyebrow lofted a bit higher, her gaze mostly impassive. “I wasn’t aware you were monitoring my movements,” she countered.
There was a dark flicker in his eye.
“You should know, better than anyone, someone’s always watching.”
His gaze continued to shift between the enormous library behind them and the curious store opposite he’d travelled halfway around the world to investigate. He had to get Helen as far away from that as possible, so he boldly reached forward and took her by the arm.
“There’s an exquisite little cafe inside – unless you’d rather stay out here with the dust?”
His other arm opened out, enticing her forward toward the library steps where two guards in full dress suit tried to keep still despite the heat.
“I would not have suspected you to be among those watching, Nikola,” she droned.
Her gaze lowered, lingering on the hand at her arm. Bold move, to be certain. She looked back in the direction she’d been moving, brows furrowing slightly. Telling him of her errand would likely only draw questions. It could wait.
“As you like,” uttered she with a noticeable measure of suspicion.
He led her up the steps – through the large oak doorway that had seen better eons and, after a brief nod at a wary gentleman behind the welcome desk, strolled into the gothic-themed cafe.
The rich smell of coffee wafted on the air – somehow making the room with its leather furnishings and enormous ceilings feel homely.
Several choice pieces on loan from the museum were scattered around the room in glass cases – the most beautiful of which was a four foot inscribed rock that shone proudly in the centre of the restaurateurs.
And – ah yes, what an interesting surprise. On the far side of the room, just out of reach, was a Cabal agent sipping coffee, entirely unaware that their ‘most wanteds’ had wandered through the door.
Nikola picked a private booth along one of the walls.
“So tell me – Rome, interesting choice, not your usual scene at all. Either you’ve got a new lover you haven’t told anyone about,” he paused for effect, “or you’re after something rather special.”
By ‘special’ of course, he meant rare and dangerous – not the kind of thing you wanted people to see you acquiring.
The odd thing about coffee: it smelled delicious, but tasted like (for lack of a better description) ass. Ever observant, Helen noticed the silent exchange between Tesla and the man at the welcome desk. Clearly, he’d been here before and left an impression on the man. With Telsa guiding her, Helen was free to take a cursory glance around the café.
She located possible exits should the need for escape arise. Her eyes swept over the assembled people, noting the seemingly innocuous agent on the far side of the room. Brilliant. Once seated, Helen turned her attention to her old colleague, a wan smile coming to her face.
“One could say the same of you,” Helen countered, skirting the issue of her purpose in the city. Yes, make the conversation about Tesla. He always seemed to be keen on being the centre of attention.
She didn’t miss a trick – honing in on every available escape route. Clever girl – she’ll probably need them.
“She’ll have the tea, Earl Grey – lemon,” Nikola hissed at the waiter and then added, “and I’ll have…that,” he pointed at the large inscribed rock in the case in front of him.
“The Traveller’s Stone?” the waiter’s eyebrows hit the roof.
“Relax, I’ll settle for a short black.”
The waiter made a hasty escape and Nikola returned his attention to the Helen.
“I have something for you,” he began ominously, “but you’re not going to like it.”
Helen’s brow arched at the order. Not only was she well and capable of ordering her own drink, but, really did he need to make a scene? Well, of course. He simply wouldn’t be Tesla without the unnecessary dramatics.
Her expression shifted from bland endurance to something with a touch more worry around the edges. “In which case you may keep it.”
“Oh Helen,” he rolled his eyes dramatically, once again nervously fixing his collar. He was thankful he could put the action down to OCD – even if it wasn’t. “You don’t mean that – besides, I’ve been carting it around for ages – just in case.”
He reached into his coat pocket and withdrew a small bundle of red silk. On the other side of the room, the Cabal agent’s eyes snapped up – not as blindly unaware as Nikola and Helen had thought him.
“I mean every word I say,” she warned. Her eyes darted from Tesla to the bundle, suspicion rising. Without hesitation, she reached across the table, wrapping her hands around his. “Whatever it is, I hardly think this is time or place for it.”
He couldn’t help it – he paused at her gesture, looking down at her hands over his and suddenly he wished that his weren’t perpetually cold. Finally, he lifted his eyes back to hers – but didn’t move.
Crockery hit the table as the waiter returned with their drinks.
That wasn’t quite what she had in mind. Helen gave a slight nudge to push whatever was in his hands back. Thankfully, the server returned with their drinks, a most welcome distraction. She pulled her hands back, reaching for the tea with a nod of thanks to the waiter.
Nikola looked at the silk sadly, returning it to his jacket. The Cabal agent let his coffee go cold as he watched the pair intently.
“There are only two reasons why Helen Magnus wanders the globe. Either she wants something or she’s about to steal something. If you’re going to steal from me, I’d advise strongly against it.”
Helen lofted a brow at him. What gall to make assumptions as such about her!
“There is an old book store in Rome with rare volumes amidst its shelves. I am acquainted with the proprietor who has found something of interest to me.” To be truthful, it’s a personal interest having nothing at all to do with her work.
“Acquainted… So only one of us will be doing the stealing on this occasion…” he grinned, laying his fingers on his cup. “Age old question,” Nikola lowered his voice, “fight or flight?”
The Cabal agent was talking into his sleeve and things were about to get nasty.
Helen sighed quietly into her cup, glancing toward the fidgety agent. “It’s far below you to steal when you’re quite capable of charming what you desire out of so many,” she chastised. “Is there at least time to finish my tea?”
Nikola sized the agent up.
“Plenty… I think this one’s actually afraid of us.” He twitched his freshly grown moustache. “You try charming a cranky, elderly ex-CIA agent – it is well beyond my skills although you might manage it…” he added.
Colour her mildly curious. “I’ll have no part in your schemes,” she reminded him. Well, it wasn’t as if they could have a leisurely afternoon. Helen gulped down a bit of her tea and looked expectantly toward Tesla. “At your leisure,” she murmured, indicating that she’s prepared to leave when he is.
He flexed his claws.
“This,” he pointed to the library beyond the cafe, “is an extremely old library. When we’re – done, go out the door, swing a left and head toward the large granite stairwell. On three – shall we?” Nikola counted down on his claws, then turned his head and snarled at the Cabal agent who realised, a second too late, that he was in trouble.
Oh, dear. Helen swept her gaze around once more. A clear route would be best and, of course, she had to be mindful of the bystanders. She sighed, knowing there was nothing else to do once Tesla set his mind to a plan. Tesla was more than enough to deal with one agent.
For her part, Helen grabbed to cup of tea in one hand, keeping the other free for her gun should it be needed, and bolted toward the door. Focused determination narrowed her eyes, keeping her alert for any more potential agents in whose faces she’d be tossing that hot tea. Tea garners far less attention than gunfire.
He watched her hurray away before he heard the definite click of a weapon loading right beside him. Nikola turned to see the waiter standing over his shoulder and under his folded napkin – the barrel of a gun.
“Very unwise,” Tesla snarled.
The other Cabal agent had risen and crossed halfway through the room in pursuit of Helen.
Nikola calmly stood up, stretching to his not-so-impressive height, laid his napkin on the table and then stepped forward until he felt the barrel of the weapon on his jacket.
“Shame, I really did love this suit.”
The restaurant fell into silence as the gunshot rang out. Then, one by one – the screaming started. So much for not making a scene.
So much, indeed. Helen turned back, flinging the still-hot drink into her pursuer’s face. As the liquid flew, she reached for her gun. A quick scan of the room separated those fleeing from those who were threats. Helen’s sights were trained, not on the waiter with the firearm, but the agent they’d initially identified. The gunman would deal with Tesla, a far worse fate than being on the receiving end of a bullet. As for her own tail, well, he’d be blind and flailing long enough for them to flee.
Nikola was busy grinning menacingly at the gunman who was more than shocked to find the bullet had no effect on Tesla.
“Ouch…” Nikola whispered, then threw the Cabal agent back against a table sending cups and plates shattering to the ground.
He looked down and frowned at the trail of blood dribbling onto his suit, staining it. Nikola! he heard Helen’s voice. She was lingering at the door with a traumatised Cabal agent clutching his tea-soaked face.
“Are you paying – or am I?” Nikola asked Helen, cocking his eyebrow.
Helen jerked her head toward the door, a clear indication for him to move. The sooner they left, the less likely they were to be identified by locals. Being hunted by the Cabal was one thing, having to pull strings to divert local authorities, that was another annoyance all together.
She stepped out through the door, following the instructions Tesla gave, whether he was behind her or not. Left out the toward the large, granite stairwell. Somehow, it seemed all her most recent encounters with Tesla led to violence and fleeing.
Never one to run, he strode quickly behind her, pointing up the impressive stairwell. No one was giving chase yet and the library staff seemed more concerned with the squealing mortals in the cafe.
Nikola led the way to the third floor of the library where he spied a ‘Restricted Access’ door. He winked at Helen.
“While we’re here…” he said, running one of his claws over the door which crackled with electricity and unlocked.”Might as well…” he disappeared into the dark room.
“Nikola!” Helen hissed in dismayed protest. She cast a glance back down the stairs and then followed him into the room. She pulled the door closed behind her to better cover their tracks and stalked after the man. “I don’t appreciate being dragged into your mess, yet again. What have you done now to earn their ire?”
The room was pitch black and smelt of dust and accumulated time.
He could see just fine – one of the perks of being part vampire. Truthfully, he hadn’t had the nerve to break into this place on his own.
“Be a dear and help me with this vault…” he knelt down in front of the locked, metal vault. Finally, all his notes from a past life, confiscated by the FBI, classified, lost, hidden, sold and now, after all this time he was so close to recovering them.
Technically he thought, it’s not stealing.
Helen glared in the direction from which his voice had come. “I’ve already told you that I’ll have no hand in whatever scheme you’re hatching.” Helen paced for a moment while waiting for her eyes to adjust to the darkness, arms crossed over her chest.
“Oh come on, old time’s sake – it’s not like I’m stealing. I am merely reclaiming a few personal items and then we can go wherever you want… Uh oh…”
His claw slipped into the lock and twisted. It hurt a damn-site more than being shot.
“Never mind,” he grinned, as the vault opened. There was a pile of paper inside along with a rather worn diary. Nikola wasted no time stashing it inside his jacket which puffed his chest out like a pigeon.
“I’m done,” his teeth bared themselves in a grin. “Where to – m’lady?”
It’s just like him to suggest gallivanting about Rome with the Cabal hot on their tail. Her brows knit as she strained to stare at him in the dark. She stepped closer, eyes wide to better see.
“This was all part of your plan, wasn’t it?”
“Plan?” he inched closer. “No… eventual plot – perhaps.
That man never had much regard for personal space. Not that Helen could tell in the darkness. “Have you someplace safe we can go?”
“That depends entirely on your definition of ‘safe’.”
He brushed past her on his way to the door, opening it a crack so that he could survey the stairwell for pursuers.
“My lab is nearby but I’m not sure yet if I trust you enough to give you the guided tour. For all I know, you could be in Rome on Watson’s request to corner me. However…” he opened the door a little more so that bright light gushed into the room, “if I had your word you would behave…”
If only he could see that incredulous look on Helen’s face. Yes, he may be able to see in the dark, but even Tesla couldn’t see behind him.
“If anyone is justified in having trust issues, it’s me.”
Trust issues? well, she did have a point there. The last time they had been in Rome he hadn’t been on his best behaviour.
“So we’re clear,” he turned to her, and continued in his best ‘honest’ voice, “I was not and would never kill you.”
Truthfully, he wasn’t sure if he wanted ‘the great’ Helen Magnus snooping around his lair – all those things she could touch and break – it was enough to turn his pale skin pure white with fear. Besides, she was bound to disapprove of his latest experiment after having expressly told him not to undertake it.
That said – he didn’t like to leave her wandering aimlessly around Rome with the Cabal this eager.
“I need to know that you believe me before we go any further.”
No,” she asked, canting her head as she turned to face him. “Would you have tortured me instead as you did to John?” Helen pressed her lips together. No, he’d done little of late to earn her trust. Then again, there was the more distant past to consider. “I need to have a reason to believe you, Nikola.”
“Other than, I love you?” he nearly snapped back, then recovered. “We’ve all been alive a lot longer than nature intended. I admit that – for a brief time – I may have slipped into the realms of hostility but I never killed anyone in cold blood. Indeed – I think we can both safely say that Whitechapel is much improved since his experience.”
Her eyes narrowed, glaring balefully at him. “The ends do not justify the means.” There was, perhaps, a touch of hostility there, indignation perhaps on John’s behalf. Yes, Tesla may have helped him, but that certainly wasn’t his intent.
“There was a time when you would have taken me at my word – are things so different now?” he eyed her with his enormous dark eyes.
“I forgave you everything,” his voice was barely more than a whisper. Something else was slipping into his tone – betrayal?
Cue the curious, yet somewhat blank look. Helen racked her brain, but save for three bullets could think of nothing she’d down for which she’d need Tesla’s forgiveness.
Nikola looked unbelievably hurt.
“You don’t even remember – do you?” he answered her blank look with a fierce glare.
1952, she had left him in the Cabal’s hands for five months, trapped in a cage like an animal because Watson had uncovered evidence that ‘proved’ he’d been playing both sides. It was a straight forward set up and when Helen finally showed up for the rescue, Nikola had just nodded and forgiven her for believing the worst.
It was never Helen’s job to look after him. Honestly, if she had to recount every bit of trouble he’d dragged her into, well, her long memory would easily be filled.
“We are not all blessed with eidetic memory, Nikola,” retorted she. “You’ve manipulated, betrayed, tortured. You tried to kill me and have on numerous occasions wantonly put me in way of harm to further whatever game you’re playing.” Helen stepped closer, peering around him to see out of the door. “I ask again, what reason have I to trust you?”
“Trust me,” he stepped purposefully away from her, visibly unimpressed with her temper “or trust them…”
He could already hear a set of Cabal agents taking to the stairs – considerably more than before.
As a pair, they were good at escaping trouble but every decade the Cabal got faster and smarter. Capturing either Tesla or Magnus would be very bad but both at once? It would be a disaster and the Holy Grail of the Cabal.
“And for the record,” he added, “I don’t wantonly throw you in the path of danger. It’s your own over-ripened sense of curiosity that does that all by itself.”
Helen eyes him with great suspicion. However, at the sound of the approaching Cabal, she lifts a finger to hush him. The look she gave silently questioned how the genius of them planned to get them out of immediate danger.
Nikola’s eyes flickered with something that worried Helen. Before she had the chance to protest, he daringly slipped out of the room, strutted to the edge of the stairwell and peered down to see eight Cabal agents take to the stairs. A few of them looked up, saw him, and shouted.
Nikola bounced back from the stairwell.
“This could be fun,” he fixed his cufflink. “Or we could both die – personally I prefer the first one.”
Oh, how Helen glared at him, a look that accused him of trying to get them both killed. From under his breath, she muttered in frustration, “You’ve a twisted idea of fun!” Even as she spoke, Helen checked her ammunition. She would definitely be having words with him about informing his unwitting cohorts as to the plan before acting next time. If there was a next time. “You’re leading this dance,” she uttered, waiting for some indication of what he planned to do.
“It’s always a pleasure,” he watched Helen cock her weapon.
He, in turn, brought on his vampiric traits – the sharpening of his claws – darkening of his eyes and the ever so slight spiking of his dark hair.
“There – I see them!” a Cabal agent reached the final landing of the staircase.
“Yours…” said Nikola, inspecting his claw lazily.
Helen let out a breath, stepping into the doorway to fire at the first agent up the stairs. Two more shots rang out taking down the two immediately behind. She was careful to stay behind Tesla, allowing him to be the first line of defence should anyone come in close. However, if she could keep the agents at bay, a fight with Tesla, which would inevitably prove deadly, could be avoided.
A stray Cabal bullet clipped his arm, adding another hole and blood stain to his suit.
“Being your shield is not nearly as appealing as you think,” he growled at her, then laid his hand on the metal balustrade, shocking one of the Cabal agents pulling himself up the stairwell with it.
Another bullet from a persistent agent caught Nikola in the shoulder, sending a shower of blood over him, Helen and the floor. Nikola scowled.
“I’ve had enough of this party,” he said. “How’s your trust coming along, Helen? Because I’m walking this way,” Nikola began to head towards the lift.
Helen smirked, the expression perhaps a bit more triumphant than it need be. While he was busy electrocuting the hapless agents coming up the stairs, Helen peered down, taking aim and firing on those a level below them.
“It’s quite preferable to the alternative,” she teased. However, the splatter of blood across her face quickly ended her amusement. Yes, Tesla was difficult to kill, that didn’t mean he didn’t feel the pain. Or suffer from the loss of blood. The woman nodded to him, following along and ready to cover their escape with a rain of bullets if need be.
The lift was regrettably old and small – one of those flimsy, early 1900’s models he remembered from the good old years – indeed, he doubted anyone had shown the poor thing any attention in its long life hauling bookworms between its levels.
Nikola pulled the iron grate shut manually, and then locked the second set of doors just as the remainder of agents caught on. A few of them fired at the elevator doors but their bullets resulted in nothing but sparks as they bounced off.
“Interested in a nice view of Rome?” he asked Helen, as he pressed the uppermost button with his claw.
Well, it could never be said that Tesla didn’t show her an exciting time when they were together. Despite all the danger they were facing, she gave him a charming smile and an agreeable tilt of her head. “Can you show me one I’ve not yet seen?” After all, she did spend a bit of time in Rome now and again.
He grinned, and, despite his rather bullet-strewn exterior, managed to look rather dashing.
The lift lurched into action, grinding its way up with a worrying rattle.
“I can show the lady many a thing she has yet to see,” he said cryptically.
This is what he missed, the constant danger – undeniable intrigue and just a touch of Helen Magnus.
“Such things you say,” Helen crooned in kind. “You may very well upset my delicate Victorian sensibilities.” Just in case it hadn’t been obvious that she was making light before, it certainly was after that.
“A bullet-ridden vampire is hardly a new sight for me,” Helen reminds him, glancing around at the unstable lift. How it takes her back to less modern times.
“Your ‘Victorian sensibilities’ – such as they are,” he openly mocked, “will remain intact.”
The lift shook and came to a stop at its pre-destined location. Once again, Nikola pried open the grates. He strolled out of the lift, over to the doors and pushed them open revealing the roof. At once the smell and sound of Rome poured in.
“Rome awaits…” he said, holding the door open for her.
It’s true, even in the Victorian era Helen was a far cry from the ideal Victorian woman. No, she was ahead of her time displaying qualities which would in the 1920s embody the New Woman.
After the chase through the old library, the smells of blood, books, sweat, and staleness gave way to the sweet outdoor air. All the scents of the city washed over her. The momentary distraction was enough to make her forget, for only a few seconds, that danger still lurked behind.
“We’ve not much time.” Already, pale eyes scanned the rooftop for a latter or an old fire escape. Any means by which to get to the ground and once more lost in the throng of people on the street.
But there was nothing – nothing but an expanse of concrete speckled with air-conditioning units spinning happily to themselves.
He could see the terracotta rooftops of the other buildings tessellated around them in an endless maze and – far beyond, the dark hills of Rome. The air was full of passing flocks of seagulls, squawking as they grazed by in a single white sheet and somewhere in the distance a siren wailed.
There were no safety railings around the tops of these old buildings. The sides of the roof simply ended in a low marble step with a sharp, slippery drop to the busy streets below. This feature was haunted by a solitary pigeon, softly cooing as it bobbed its head and moved away from the pair of humans intruding on its territory.
Nikola closed the door behind them – for all the good it would do, and headed off toward the nearest edge. He strode the half-step onto it, and nestled himself right at its extremity with the toes of his shoes hovering over nothing while he fished around inside his jacket pocket.
“You always complain that I never keep in contact,” he said to her, against the wind.
Nikola withdrew the same silk bundle from before – only this time it was soaked in his own blood.
“I did try to give you this earlier,” he said, as a stunning amber stone fell out of the silk and into his other hand, “but now we’re going to use it.”
Helen followed behind him, close at his heels. Until, of course, he walked to the building’s edge. Her gaze drifted from the edge, to the ground, then back to Tesla. There’s no doubt he has some plan to escape. He’s not so foolish as to trap himself. Then again, being part vampire lends him a resilience Helen lacks. It’s very likely Tesla could fall or jump from such a height and still manage to walk away.
“Rightfully so,” Helen mused. “I usually see you on occasions such as these, then not again, not even a word of greeting, for decades.” Perhaps a touch of bitterness to the words? They’d been friends once upon a time, hadn’t they? Whatever insult she may have felt was quickly pushed aside when Tesla unwrapped the stone. Now it was pure curiosity that gripped her. Glancing back over her shoulder, pale blue eyes then drifted back to the stone, then up to Tesla’s face. “Make haste, Nikola.”
“Ah…” he sighed, “and now she’s curious.”
Nikola held the ruined silk out and then let it float down into the street, caught in several currents of air. The stone he kept safe, resting in the palm of his hand with the strong light piercing through it, scattering out the other side in waves of colour.
“This is one-half of a quantum pair,” he cast his eye over his shoulder at her as if he were some kind of professor. “Call it, a souvenir from Bhalasaam.”
He held his free hand out to Helen, inviting her to join him on the ledge.
Her eyes widened slightly at his words. Whether she was more amazed by what it was or form where it came, who could tell? Maybe it wasn’t what he said at all, but the offer of his hand, at which Helen now stared.
At length she stepped closer, reaching tentatively for his proffered hand. How had he come by such a trinket, she wondered silently. It wasn’t as if he’d give a clear explanation if she asked directly.
“Brilliant as the ancient vampires were,” he caught her hand firmly, “I doubt they completely understood its properties.”
Nikola helped her onto the ledge, keeping a determined grip on her as she wavered slightly against the strong wind.
“I spent many years with these relics – but this is no place to talk,” he observed, as the door behind them crashed open.
Not wanting to risk another bullet, Nikola pulled Helen towards him, capturing her in a sudden embrace – and then threw them both off the edge of the building.
Whatever thoughts or questions had been in her mind to voice fell away into a tumultuous and panicked cacophony of silent screams. Had she not been plummeting to what was likely an inevitable death, Helen would’ve noted the oddity of being held flush to someone with little body heat of which to speak.
As it was, Helen clung tightly to him as the shock lanced through her. Her fingers dug into his already ruined jacket, wrinkling the fabric in her white-knuckled grip. The wind deafened her as they fell, whipping her hair around her face and into her eyes. Oh, God, this could really be the end! And all she could think of was Ashley…
Nikola had been prepared for the fall – but not the strength of Helen’s desperate grasp on him which nearly squeezed the air from his lungs. Before taking the plunge he’d whispered something to the stone and now all that remained was to wait and trust that the ancient technology would not fail him as they fell toward the street in what would certainly be Helen’s end – if not his own.
They didn’t have long – the slanted calico of market stalls, sea of bustling people and very solid ground was approaching with haste.
A haze of dust kicked up into their faces. Nikola turned his head away and held Helen protectively so that if they hit the ground he would hit first.
Something was wrong – they were still falling.
Had he miscalculated the distance to the ground – the time it would take them to fall?
He had just closed his eyes in a final surge of panic when a flash of golden light enveloped them.
With a crack they were gone – literally vanished into thin air.
Helen gasped, nearly as much at the resounding crack in the air like a clap of thunder as the sudden thud onto the floor of… wherever they were. Of course, Tesla took the brunt of it, Helen was still jarred by the sudden stop in their descent. Equally jarring was lying there on the floor, on top of the inventor, clinging to him with all her might.
“If I had known you would be this easy,” Nikola managed, their noses almost touching, “I would have thrown you off a building sooner.”
He held her gaze for a few seconds too long before his countenance changed entirely. Pain washed over him and he threw his head back in a heavy groan. That fall had done nothing positive for his bullet holes – indeed, he could feel the warm crimson puddle forming beneath him, spreading across the stone floor of his underground lab.
Angered insult gave way to concern. Helen didn’t know how many shots had actually hit Tesla. She knew the last bullet to hit him in the library would’ve killed any human. Yes, he healed quickly, but even his vampiric body was far from perfect. He still could be injured, could bleed, and could feel the pain.
Helen sat up quickly, worry mounting over the sheer amount of blood he was losing and the pace at which he was losing it. With little regard for his already ruined clothes, she tore open the jacket and the shirt beneath to find the source of the major bleed. “Have you a first aid station?” She wouldn’t put it past Tesla to have neglected a safety station in his lab.
“I don’t need one,” he tried to bat her hands away.
She had made a right mess of his clothes – not that they were salvageable. He made a quiet note to never wear his best suit unless he was absolutely certain he wouldn’t encounter the legendary ‘Doctor’ Magnus. Nikola hadn’t worked out why, but circumstances always tended culminate in his ruined clothes and wayward bullets.
It was always a surprise to see the horrific injuries on his body and to know for certain that he would not die from them. Her worry though, was curious indeed.
“Quit your fussing – I just need a moment,” he glanced at the wounds on his bare chest, “or two … perhaps.”
“Nikola,” she insisted, batting at his hands as they tried to bat hers away. “This isn’t good, even for you. Especially for you.” Vampire short on blood? Not Helen’s idea of a good time.
“All right!” he finally gave in, letting her pin his hands away. “God, you’re persistent when you want to be. I believe there are some left over medical supplies over there from the last time…” ‘The last time’ meaning, when the famous Jack the Ripper had nearly found a way to kill him.
Nikola was pointing at a small cupboard pushed against the stone wall with a shaky hand.
The room itself was rather large and hummed with the cheerful drone of motors powering his various experiments – some of which he had not intended anyone to see. Despite his few homely touches – a leather armchair in the corner, a fine mahogany desk beside it and several slender work tables running the length of the lab, it still looked and felt like the catacomb it was.
Good, best that the scientist follow the doctor’s orders. Besides, this is mostly the rush of adrenaline from being flung off a building working itself out. Let the woman fuss over you, Tesla. It isn’t something that will often happen.
“Here,” she instructed, taking his hand and pressing it to the worst of the injuries. “Apply pressure for a moment.” That said, Helen moved to get the indicated medical supplies. Just something to help staunch the bleeding. In a worst-case scenario, Helen did have a tampon in her coat pocket… Those worked in a pinch to plug up bullet holes.
Nikola instinctively disobeyed orders – pulling his hand away as soon as Helen turned her back. He inspected the sticky red substance dribbling down his wrist – what a mess – and all over his lab.
“Don’t you go sneaking off,” he warned her.
With a sigh of effort, Nikola sat up, rocked himself forward and somehow made it to his feet. The remains of his jacket and shirt hung open around his chest and waist. He shrugged off the jacket, folding it carefully and then laid it lovingly on a nearby bench.
Helen turned back, dismay coming over her features. Shoving a tampon in those bullet holes seemed more and more appealing by the moment. Fine, if he didn’t want her help. She stalked back over, a decisive set to her shoulders and that every present swish of her hips, pausing in front of Tesla.
“If you attack me, Nikola, by god I will end you.”
Is that a challenge or a threat? He wondered.
If it wasn’t for that pesky vow he’d be out hunting something innocent – but he had been true to his word for over a hundred years and he wasn’t about to break it, and certainly not on Helen.
“Where were we – ah yes,” he spied the quantum stone lying abandoned on the ground, “souvenirs…”
Nikola bent down and plucked the stone from the concrete floor. It took him a few goes to straighten back up, but when he finally did, it was with a triumphant grin.
Perhaps a bit of both?
Her eyes narrowed, flicking over him to access how bad the injuries were. It didn’t seem as if he’d need to have any bullets removed, they looked to have passed through cleanly. Not to worry, Tesla, she’s neither letting her gaze linger on bare skin nor on his inventions around the lab.
Not much… he eyed her accusingly, and then dodged her on the way to his desk.
Nikola set the stone down next to its partner, shuffled a few sensitive papers into a drawer – which he locked, and then spun back to face Helen. He let himself lean against the desk, half sitting – half perching on its edge.
He made an effort to re-button his shirt but found nothing but loose thread dangling where buttons had been. He cocked an eyebrow dramatically at her.
“Now who’s the one who knows how to get attention…”
She wasn’t exactly unscathed either.
“Rome’s very amicable – don’t you think?”
Dirty, frazzled, perhaps even grazed by a bullet. Helen, however, wasn’t the one gushing out blood. She crossed her arms over her chest, giving Tesla a hard gaze.
“It was more pleasant before bumping into you,” she retorted, eyes drifting once more to his wounds.
He definitely needed to be wearing more clothes with Helen eyeing him like some kind of snack.
“Never let it be said that I don’t show you a good time,” he winked – and then stumbled over to a coat cupboard where he hunted out a beautiful Victorian trench coat. He slipped it on and buttoned it up to his neck, concealing all injuries from chin to ankle.
“Welcome to my lair, Helen,” he said, finally remembering his manners. “It’s not much, but it’s home. Of course,” that playful tone that had gotten him into so much trouble in the past was back, “now that you’ve seen it I’ll simply have to kill you.”
Sadly, the jacket did little to improve his limp as he hobbled back to the desk. He wasn’t about to admit it, but he genuinely needed the extra support.
Not like a snack! Like a patient! A patient! There was no way her gaze was lingering on his pale skin because she was curious just how cold it was to the touch or anything like that! No way!
Helen rolled her eyes at his dramatic statement. “You sound like one of those cliché vampires one reads about in fiction you so loathe.”
“I’ve been alive for more than 100 years, I think it’s fair to say that I’ve read my share of fiction and, occasionally, found it tolerable.”
He’d been reading a lot of fiction of late – nearly all of it relating to vampires, their mythology and imaginary history. Nikola couldn’t help it if their tone had rubbed off on him. Indeed, a quick glance at the bookshelf behind the desk revealed this to the casual observer. Among the spines of books were some very rare texts he’d travelled far and wide to acquire.
Nikola folded his hands in front of him. He’d been alone in this lab for a long time – many, many years. Sure, he had thought about making contact with the others but the only member of The Five that he had any real intention of contacting was the most closely watched by the Cabal.
Still, here she was and he wasn’t sure what to do.
She canted her head slightly, worry still gnawing at the edges of her mind. Stiffness began to settle into her muscles from the fall. “Clearly,” she pointed out. “You’re beginning to live like one of them. If you manage to get a pipe organ here, I’ll be duly impressed.” Teasing? Yes, perhaps just a bit.
“Will you at least let me bandage your wounds?”
He subconsciously fiddled with his jacket – contemplating her request. It was true, he was still dripping and leaving smears over his furniture and as much as he tried to deny it, Helen had a point.
Besides, he really did love this jacket and didn’t want it completely ruined for the sake of ceremony.
“As it seems I’ll have no peace until you do…” he gave her his unique brand of approval. There were bandages enough in the cupboard for the task – and if she looked closely, a box of painkillers for her own inflamed joints.
There were few in this life who could refuse the great Helen Magnus. “Off with the coat,” she instructed, moving to fetch any antibiotic ointments he had in addition to bandages.
Nikola hesitated, his fingers brushing over the clasps of the jacket. Whatever battle he had going on inside his head, one side was eventually victorious and he proceeded to unclip each silver hook.
He wondered what she’d make of his interesting collection of medication. In addition to your average pharmaceuticals there were several rows of glass jars, stoppered with corks lurking in the back of the cabinet looking ominous. Most were.
Finally out of clasps, Nikola eased himself out of the heavy garment, draped it over the table and wondered if he should do the same with his ruined, ripped and rather destroyed shirt.
Certainly, being in his lair and all, Tesla had other shirts.
Helen’s eyes took note of the odd bottles with their archaic stoppers. For now, she could keep her curiosity at bay. There would be no answers to be had if the man bled himself into unconsciousness, blood frenzy, or worse.
The first aid items were placed on the desk against which he’d been leaning and Helen gave him a once over. “Shirt, too. Every bullet leaves two holes and exit wounds are the messier of the pair.” It isn’t as though Tesla didn’t know these things from first-hand experience. However, it helped to set Helen at ease to explain why she needed the vampire half-naked.
He obliged her, not that there was much left of the shirt to remove. For someone so particular about his appearance, it was difficult to accept just how much of a mess he was currently in.
“Prognosis, doctor?” he quipped. “Will I live?”
She breathed out heavily through her nose in amusement. “Anyone else would’ve been dead by now,” she offered. First things first, Helen looked over him thoroughly, front and back, to ensure all of the bullets had gone through. Pulling one out would just be messy. Additionally, in her once over, Helen checked to ensure he hadn’t been struck in his extremities, as well.
She dabbed antiseptic around each wound with her finger tips after wiping away the immediate blood with a sterile pad. One by one, each of the bullet holes was dressed until his torso was practically wrapped in bandages and gauze. “I can’t do much for your internal injuries, though, I’ve no doubt your preternatural healing will serve you well.” Honestly, after being torn into by John, quite literally, a few bullets passing through should seem as nothing.
Now that his blood was all over her hands, Helen glanced around the place for a sink at which to wash. “I wouldn’t recommend wearing any shirt of which you’re horribly fond. Those bandages will seep and need to be changed every hour, two at maximum.” The idea of Tesla trolling around in this cave in a sweatshirt to spare his wardrobe flicked through Helen’s mind and brought a smirk to her lips.
“I’m glad to be of amusement,” he caught the smirk as it crept over her lips. If it had been anyone else, he would have scowled.
Tesla had to give pause to think of a shirt he didn’t like or could hope to spare. In the end, he opted to return to his lucky jacket – the one piece of attire that put up with all the abuse and seemed to come out unscathed.
“Your skills have improved somewhat,” Nikola observed, as he pulled his jacket around his slightly larger girth. Her poking and prodding had hurt – yes, but he was never one to complain about female hands running lightly over his back and chest for the better part of half an hour.
“I’ve been practicing for the better part of a century. I should hope my skills improve after so much time.” Heaven knows she’s spent enough of the last two decades patching up Ashley. Only after washing her hands of any trace of Tesla left one them side she come over and clap him genially on the shoulder.
“You’ll live, Nikola,” she offered with wry smile. Her hand may have lingered for a second, possibly two before it fell away. As if to cover the gesture, Helen breathed out a sigh and rolled her shoulder before making a grab around Tesla for those pain killers.
“Ow…” he said softly, as she hit him playfully on the shoulder.
Nikola may have been injured but he was still faster than her. He swiped at the pain killers too – reaching them first and whisking them out of her reach.
A brow lifted, just slightly, bringing a look of incredulous questioning coming to her face. Unfortunately for Helen, Tesla’s a bit taller than she. In spite of that, she reaches for the tablets.
He raised it higher.
“My last bargaining chip,” he mused, twisting it to the artificial light, “as if it could be conquered so easily.”
Helen continued to give him an expectant glare. “Bargaining chip for what, pray tell? You threw me from a rooftop and would deny me some measure of relief from the resulting pain after I tended your wounds?”
“Charming as this city is,” he lowered the bottle just a touch, nearly letting it slip into her grasp before elevating it out of range. “I need to get out, but lately, every time I try…” his voice ambled off.
For some reason the Cabal were determined to capture him and planes – roads and boats proved opportune for such a task. He’d lost count of the close calls he’d escaped. ‘Travelling’ just wasn’t something he was able to achieve.
“I know you have the means,” he flicked the lid off the bottle with his thumb and tilted the bottle so that its pearly white pills tumbled to the rim – but not over it.
Her gaze fixed on the bottle of pills, the ache from being jostled so roughly seeming to settle deeper into her bones with each passing moment. Helen’s lips parted, eyes slightly wider than usual as the means to relief flicked into her sight.
With a blink, her eyes shifted to Tesla. “The means for what,” pressed she, a note of irritability creeping into her voice.
“…traffic me safely out of the country.”
Nikola let a single pill fall into her hand – it was a start, but it wouldn’t be enough to numb the pain.
“I’d of course need somewhere to stay – and a supply of vintage wine.”
Honestly, be rewarded like some sort of pet. Beyond insulting! Helen caught that single pill, tossing it back dry. What’s a little ibuprofen among friends?
Ever closer to her hairline that brow crept. Was he serious? He seemed to be. “Nikola, I came to Rome for a book. If that Cabal’s sources are clever enough to track you, they’re going to know I didn’t come here for a human-sized artefact…”
On the other hand, for the sake of their old friendship and sort of future alliance, Helen couldn’t outwardly decline. For a long moment she contemplated him, weighing the pros and cons of having him at the Sanctuary for a time.
“I’ll see what I can do.”
A steady stream of white objects rained down from the bottle into her hand. There were a dozen more bottles where it came from – more than he’d ever need. Without a smirk of his own, he tossed the empty container aside. It bounced across the floor and rolled into a corner adding to the mess.
His lab was ruined anyway – an adventure was just what he needed – a bit of time spent prowling around a change of scenery.
“It’s been a pleasure doing business with you Madame,” he dipped into a shallow bow.
“I don’t need that many,” she pointed out. “Unlike you, these things still affect me rather pleasantly.” Though, Helen did pop a few more pills into her mouth before pocketing the rest.
“If you think you’re to be rid of me so easily, Nikola, you’re sorely mistaken.” Her eyes narrowed, a gleam of determination flashing in them. “I’ll not be leaving Rome until I get that for which I came.”
That sounded positively ominous.
Nikola matched her stare and raised her a slight, amused tilt of the head.
“And what would that be?”
Helen tilted her head slightly, a small grin quirking up one corner of her mouth. “If I’d known you were so easy to flabbergast, I’d have fallen on top of you ages ago,” she taunted. Check and mate. “I understand after all the excitement that you’ve forgotten since, of course, my purpose here is of little interest to you and your schemes.”
“Touché…” he let the word linger for a while.
Her taunting had him well and truly distracted. He tried to tell himself it was just the loss of blood affecting his usual indifference but it simply wasn’t true – Helen Magnus had always been his weakness – ever since the spring of 1880 when she’d sauntered into Oxford and given the exact same smile she was giving now.
“Your book,” his mind clicked back on, “ah yes – you were after a book.”
Helen smiled, reaching up to pat his cheek in a playful manner. “That’s the one with which you’re supposed to think.” That said, she pivoted on the ball of her foot, making her way across the room. Finally, she was sweeping her eyes around the lab, taking in the vampire’s lair. A bit gauche in her opinion.
“You will have one room at the Sanctuary. I will also supply you a lab of your own, but there will be conditions. You will not have access to my databases or our computer systems. For security purposes.” She moves over behind the desk, trailing her fingers over it before flopping into the leather chair. “However, those arrangements will be made on the successful retrieval of my book.” The implication of which was that Tesla was to help in that endeavour.
“Very generous…” he assured Helen.
She still didn’t trust him and that made him proud. Nikola had to spin around slowly to watch her flop into his favourite chair. The leather squeaked as she shifted around. He peered at her from the other side of the desk, resting both his hands on the wood and leaning halfway over it.
“You’re in my chair,” he cautioned her.
Helen nodded, as if to affirm his observation. “I wouldn’t want you to bleed on your fine leather.” Leaning back in the chair, she cast another look, a suspicious look, about the lab. When her eyes settled back on Tesla, they were impassive.
“I presume most, if not all, of this will need to be transported.” Even if whatever he was working on was simply for his own amusement, Helen dare not leave any of his work behind for others to find. “You know,” she added, a smug look touching her features, “I’m sure James has space at the UK Sanctuary. Been a while since you’ve been to London, hasn’t it?”
“You wouldn’t dare,” he was now resting on his elbows, still lounged across the desk. “We both know that an arrangement like that would lead to an unfortunate murder – and since I can’t die – apparently…”
He wasn’t sure he liked the way her eyes wandered over the room – across all manner of incriminating research. He was not an entirely benevolent creature, and littered among the genuinely useful machinery was the occasional ‘world domination’ contraption – for his own amusement, of course.
“No indeed,” he corrected her. “I travel light – a briefcase should suffice.” The security on this lab put Helen’s Sanctuary to shame. All he would need was a change of clothes and a laptop. Yes, despite choice of attire, he was well in tune with the modern era. Only fair seeing as he had invented most of it.
The suitcase in question was already packed, sitting neatly beside the desk after his last attempt to escape the country.
Her brow lofted as if daring him to make another threat. “I never specified at which of my Sanctuaries you’d be hiding.” She leaned forward in the chair, resting her elbows on the desk, and contemplated him. It’s likely he’s seen to the safety and security of this location, hence his ability to remain settled in Rome for so long.
“With the Cabal watching you so closely, Nikola, I’ll have to insist you remain unseen for a time. I’m not certain we could fake your death again, not to them.” Helen reclined back into the chair, her gaze fixed on Tesla. “Have you a phone directory?”
“I am the master of discretion,” he whispered, undaunted by her sudden approach.
Nikola always stood his ground.
“Phone? Nothing so primitive,” he snipped. “Phones can be tapped, tracked, listened in on – no, phones outgrew their usefulness long ago.”
This time it was Nikola’s eyes that wandered slightly – most against his will and better judgement.
Oh, what a disbelieving look those words earned him. “Really? Is it that what you call attempting to sell your teleforce weapon during a time of war to nearly every Allied nation?” Well, at least he hadn’t offered it to the Nazis. That was a small blessing. “Or perhaps another show of discretion was in your approach last time we met in Rome?”
Helen’s look faded from incredulous to border-line annoyance. “I didn’t ask for a phone, Nikola, just a directory. They have addresses. If she noticed his wandering gaze, she made no sign of it.
“Do I look like I would keep a directory?” he reached forward with one hand and took hold of a small, rather scruffy looking book. It was no bigger than a common diary. “This, however, is something unique.”
He opened it with one hand and it became clear that it was no book. The pages were some kind of flexible display screen that flickered on after a moment. One of his more useful inventions.
“Ask it anything whatever you want and it will do its best do oblige you. And, if you must know, at the time I really did have honest intentions for the world and its squabbling rabble.”
“You don’t really want an answer to that,” she murmured. Helen took the little technological wonder and pulled it close. To its illuminated pages she softly whispered, “Why is Nikola Tesla such an arrogant egomaniac?”
Nikola Tesla rolled his eyes pushed off his desk in distress.
The page of the book, however, glowed slightly as several lines of text appeared.
“… and never in my life have I met someone as arrogant, disagreeable or intolerable as that Tesla. What an egomaniac – I shall destroy him just for the sake of it.” Thomas Edison, 1893
He dreaded what kind of an answer she was reading.
“It’s not a perfect piece of technology,” he said, as he strode over to the workbench where his ruined coat from earlier still lay in a mess. Nikola pulled at hit, extracting his life’s work from its various pockets. Sadly, most of it was soggy and rather blood stained. At least it was once again in his possession, where it belonged.
Helen couldn’t repress a chuckle. Saucy little book! Her gaze flicked over to Tesla, then back to the gadget. “It must rub you horribly that you don’t get credit for inventing Google.”
All jest aside, Helen was impressed by the book. She laid it flat on the desk to admire the workmanship of it. Very clever, as expected from the brilliant mind of Nikola Tesla. Running a finger over the luminescent page, Helen murmured the name of the book store in question, asking for its street address.
Nikola could tell by the look of satisfaction on Helen’s face that his book was answering whatever it was she had purred at it.
He took his time sauntering back to the main desk, keeping a respectable distance from her secrets.
Without a word he hauled his suitcase onto it, fiddled with the brass locks until they snapped open and then proceeded to fill it with his personal papers.
“These go where I go,” he said firmly – as did the ‘book’ under Helen’s hands.
Helen’s not muttering secrets to Nikola’s little black book! Blue eyes flicked up to him, watching him with a polite measure of detachment while he fusses with the case. “I can arrange for a fire-proof safe in which you can store them when you’re act the Sanctuary. No one will have access to them save you,” she assured.
At length, she slid the book across the table, the address she’d requested still on its pages. Helen was banking on Nikola’s eidetic memory to remember those numbers. “How well do you know Rome’s tunnels, Nikola?”
“Are these trick questions?” he glanced at the page and it set into his memory.
He knew the place – quaint little store. Amongst other things its range of historical documents was extraordinary.
The ‘book’ joined the rest of his things in the briefcase which he shut firmly, adjusting the brass locks.
“Hamish may have an unparalleled collection of books and trinkets,” said Nikola, taking his briefcase in hand before wandering around to each piece of machinery in the lab, switching it off. Switch by switch, the room went quiet – as if sleeping. “But he’s a nasty old man with a temper and will overcharge if he gets so much as a whiff of affluence,” he risked a glance over his shoulder at her, “which he will.”
The only door to the lab was to the right of his desk where Helen was still draped over his chair. Talk about sights he never thought he would see.
He makes it seem so scandalous! It isn’t as if she’s wearing a short skirt with her legs thrown over the arm of the chair revealing the lace of her stockings. Not at all! Helen’s just sitting as a normal person sits. Worry clung to the edges of her thoughts as she peered over at him. Was he ready to travel so soon after being made into man-shaped Swiss cheese?
“Hamish and I have a bit of history, Nikola. Being personable often has long-reaching rewards.” Was she preening? Just a bit. Helen knows just what the man has for her and he knows exactly what he’s going to get for it. She’s been known to reward handsomely for things she covets.
Nikola was not one to laugh out loud but he absolutely could not prevent a soft, amused snigger before it slipped out when he watched Helen run her fingers through her hair, unconsciously removing flecks of dirt. No amount of attention could possibly hide her ruffled state. What Helen needed was a hotel room and an ensuité.
“You seem to have a lot of history,” he accused her.
There was something else he felt – that undeniable flicker of jealousy that surfaced every time Helen paraded one of her conquests in front of him. Hamish though? Now he was really depressed.
Helen paused in the fluffing of her hair to contemplate Tesla for a moment. And then it happened. Realization dawned and a broad smile broke across her face. “Are you jealous, Nikola?” There was a note of laughter to those words, just barely restrained. “Of Hamish? You must be joking!”
“Jealous?” he scoffed, “what rubbish.”
Nikola all but stormed back to his desk, this time coming around the side of it where Helen was seated. He stopped abruptly in front of her – the edges of his elegant coat just drifting far enough forward to sweep over her.
“Pity – perhaps, for having to endure you.”
Helen tilted her head slightly, her lashes lifting slowly as her eyes raked over him. For a long moment Helen met and held his gaze, pale eyes searching for something unknown in him. Tension grew in the air, thick as a heavy fog, and palpable.
Finally, Helen stood, flipping her hair back over on her shoulder, her expression hardening. A flash of fire lit in the depths of her eyes. “There are some things about which even you are bad at lying,” she grated out in a low, measured voice. “I promise you, you’ll have no need to endure me any longer.” That said, Helen turned on her heel and stalked toward anything that resembled an exit. “Good luck leaving Rome, Tesla.”
Nikola wasn’t sure when he had stopped breathing, but as Helen peered through him, examining the secrets of his soul at her leisure, he suddenly gasped and she had her answer.
The tension swirled with her sudden fury, which Nikola realised was as much about current events as it was caught up in their past.
Impulsively, and quite without his consent, he reached for her – just managing to catch the sleeve of her jacket before she strutted out of reach.
At the touch of his hand, that impulsive, desperate clutch, Helen whirled around, insult and fury lining her face. Instinct pulled her arm away from him, but something else froze her in place. Cold, distant eyes fell on him once more and it was all Helen could do to remember to breathe. Like in that moment when she met John… In the heavy silence, those seconds that felt like eternity, Helen could hear only the throbbing her heart in her chest — surely Nikola could as well.
It was as if she was seeing him for the first time. Not the scientist, the genius engineer, eccentric inventor. All of those melted away under her intense scrutiny. No more did she see arrogance, obnoxiousness, or even a vampire. Under that stare, Helen saw him, Nikola Tesla, the man, for the first time.
There was something human in him still, something he denied and hid from others. Something he, whether by his own will or not, revealed to her now. Helen stared at the magnificence of it as if watching a flower burst into bloom. All his well-crafted masks fell away in that one, simple, and so very human gesture. It left Helen breathless. Colour touched her cheeks, her eyes darkened slightly, and her lips parted. In those few seconds, rather than pull away, Helen stepped forward, closing the distance that remained between them, so close he could feel her breath on his skin.
He was frozen by the revelation; after decades of teasing, taunting, warring and outright avoidance there was something real beneath it all – and it shone through now, as starkly as a desert sunrise.
Nothing else mattered. She was a breath away – and Nikola’s eyes fluttered closed when his lips crashed down on hers.
Shock ran through her as hot and jarring as live voltage would’ve been. His lips against hers drew a small, perhaps startled, sound from Helen. However, whatever anger had been there, whatever tension, and lingering adrenaline served only to fan the flames. Rage was nothing more than a passion in and of itself, after all.
Even Helen was surprised to find her hands reaching out, cupping Nikola’s face. Her lips parted beneath his in a silent invitation to pour out decades’ worth of repressed and denied feelings into one heated moment.
Their collision knocked him backwards until he ran into the edge of the desk – his free hand fumbling for it to steady them.
Passion – in its most pure, demanding form took control of him.
Nikola’s lips answered her silent requests, parting in turn as his hands roamed up to hers and then tangled in her hair. He pulled her, if possible, closer as if he were afraid she would vanish like one of his countless reveries.
No mind was paid to Nikola’s injuries nor to the logical part of Helen’s mind railing against this lapse in judgment. No, she simply moved with him, pushing him back even once his desk stopped their progress. Her hands slid from his face, one remaining poised against the side of his throat, the other threading through his hair.
Helen’s tongue moves to greet Nikola’s, deepening their heated kiss with fervour. For a few seconds — and God how they seemed to drag on forever! — there was nothing else in the world other than the taste of him filling her senses, his hands in her mess of hair (shocking, considering Nikola’s aversion to touching hair!), his body against hers… Or so she thought until a great pop sounded and the room went dark. First instinct was that it was one of those parlour tricks he so enjoyed. Helen pulled back slightly, panting softly against his lips.
“Have I short-circuited you?” teased she, in a breathless voice.
For once in his life, Nikola’s mind was completely blank.
The feeling of Helen against him, inside him and all around him was overwhelming. A century of desire coursed through his veins – his heart pounding so hard he was sure that she would be able to hear it, pressed up against him like this. Her hands were knotted in his hair and her lips – they were hovering on his as she spoke.
It wasn’t until she repeated herself that his eyes flicked open and he realised that the lab had been thrown into darkness.
His chest pained from the awkward angle Helen had him at – half laid over his desk. Still, he tilted his head and lowered it to the side of her neck and breathed back his response.
“It wasn’t me…” he said softly, revelling in her for just a few more stolen moments.
She made no effort to move away from him. Through the fog of angry passion, the weight of Nikola’s words settle over her. At length she blinked, a sudden chill gripping her that has nothing to do with the coldness of his skin.
“… Move! Now!” She insisted as she pulled away. “Get what you can, we have to go!”
He heard a pile of papers fall to the floor beside them, knocked by his hand as he pushed them off the desk.
It wasn’t him which meant it was someone else – and, save the woman trying to pull him out of the room, he had only enemies.
He fell to the floor – half-dragging Helen with him as he searched for his briefcase – discarded in their passion. Eventually he found it and scrambled to his feet.
“This way,” he said, taking her firmly by the hand as he led her through the pitch black room toward the only exit.
Nikola could see but only just as he ran his hand over the door, grasping at the handle and shuffling Helen out from in front of it.
“Tunnels,” he told her, as the lights in the lab momentarily flickered back on – as if someone was fighting for control of them. “Whatever happens, Helen,” he told her seriously, as the room returned to black. “Keep your free hand on the right-side wall. It’s a maze down here – but that will lead you out.”
There’s a slight groan from Helen as she’s nearly dragged to the floor with the inventor. Helen grasped at his sleeve with the same desperation he’d grabbed at hers before. She may not have had any great love for Tesla, but Helen certainly didn’t bear him enough ill will to leave him in the hands of enemies.
In the dark, she staggered behind him, her fingers curling around his if only to keep from being lost in the lab. Her eyes widened at his words, a hand already going for the wall. “Nikola, I’m not leaving you behind.”
He was quickly hatching an escape plan as they entered the tunnel. The door to his lab locked behind them. No-one else would be getting into it alive but the longer they stayed here, the less chance they had of getting out of this mess un-captured.
“Leave me behind?” he eyed her scornfully in very low light of the tunnel. It was almost an unnatural ambient glow, barely allowing a differentiation between the stone walls and dirt floor. “I’d be offended if you did. It’s just in case,” he added, releasing her hand for effect, “we get separated.”
Just for the effect, she takes his hand firmly in her own. It may be hard to see in the dim light, though if anyone could see the determination in her eyes, Nikola would be the one. “We won’t.”
He raises his eyebrow as she re-takes his hand firmly, working her fingers between his until Nikola has no choice but to take hold.
“And there go all my carefully laid plans to vanish for the next century,” he joked, starting off down the tunnel with an air of caution.
These networks of tombs under Rome were positively ancient. There was no sense at all in their haphazard, confused and ridiculously complex design – if anything, it seemed contrived solely to trap unwitting wanderers in an endless tomb. This, of course, worked in Nikola’s favour most of the time. Rome had been his home on and off for nearly sixty years which gave him a decided advantage over any pursuers.
Surprisingly, they continued on for a while without trouble – navigating the occasional semi-collapsed section of tunnel until the floor began to tilt upward as if they were heading to the surface.
Helen frowned, following Nikola’s lead through the catacombs. It wasn’t beyond reason that he’d acquaint himself with them while in Rome. Hadn’t she herself done the same thing with the closed off undergrounds during World War II?
“Should you vanish again for a century,” Helen warned in a very serious tone, “it will only be because I’m testing what precisely will succeed in killing you.” That’s her way of saying, ‘you’d better not!’
After the tease she’d just given him? For once he wasn’t in a hurry to retreat into the shadows.
“Wouldn’t want to be your enemy…” he observed, as they neared the end of the catacombs.
Whoever had been playing with the lights in his lab hadn’t managed to find them – with any luck they were lost, huddled like frightened rats in a corner somewhere.
“It would be a shame to depart Rome without your purpose for coming here,” he said, pausing to sniff out the way ahead. Her bookstore was not far from where these tunnels emerged.
It was by far his favourite escape route – coming up under the great Pantheon. From there it was a leisurely stroll through the cafe courtyard to Hamish’s alleyway.
There was a set of heavy doors a dozen metres in front of them with three other passage ways meeting at their foot. He listened to the other tunnels carefully for any hint of life.
Helen simply gave him a stare, one of complete agreement. “I don’t intend to leave without my book.” The question is how angry will Nikola be when he realizes said book is a rare first publication of short stories by Ray Bradbury?
Must be some book, he mused. His heart was still beating irregularly. He had not forgotten those moments in his lab. They were surreal – utterly so. The only evidence that they had transpired was Helen’s hand in his and the slightest stain of red lipstick on his mouth.
They crossed the last tunnel together. Nikola pushed the door open and the ruckus of the Pantheon could be heard as a distant haze of noise. The late afternoon was peak tourist time in Rome – those few hours before sunset when the soft yellow light caressed the streets and the café’s became bars with their iron chairs and tables littered over the giant courtyards.
Helen and Nikola ascended the stone steps – the background noise rising as they came to a second door. This one was brand new and, as he opened it, a blur of people came into view along with the lofty dome of the beautiful ancient building.
They found themselves inside the Pantheon, emerging from a door labelled, ‘Fire Exit Only’.
Helen’s grip on Nikola’s hand never wavered as he manoeuvred the tunnels. Her eyes narrowed, adjusting to the brighter light as they depart the underground catacombs. Her free hand lifted to shield her eyes from the glare of afternoon. Blinking while her sight adjusts, Helen paused to peer at her surroundings.
Impressive, Helen thought. Nikola’s knowledge of the catacombs must’ve come from years of exploration. That photographic memory of his can’t have hurt the process. Nikola may have taken note of the slight in-take of breath at the sight before her while they moved away from the Pantheon.
“Hamish’s shop isn’t far,” Helen finally murmured at length. “I’ll check your bandages there.”
“Ah yes, the great and alluring Hamish,” he teased, wading through the sea of tourists.
Out in the safety of the streets they almost forgot the chaos of before. To any casual observer they were simply two travellers, hand in hand, wandering through the twilight of Rome.
And then there it was – the time-ravished shop front of the bookstore, huddled away in the gap between two buildings.
Nikola brought them to a natural stop and then turned to her with an amused smile. Without a word, he set his briefcase down and then reached forward, brushing a smudge of dirt from her cheek.
“First impressions are key,” said Nikola, before retrieving his case.
Helen smirked, tipping her head slightly away from the coolness of his fingertips. They felt so cold against her skin after their flight through the ancient tunnels.
“Whatever impression Hamish has of me was made long ago,” informed she. However, she did run her fingers through her tussled hair to shake free some of the dirt and dust. Then, she reached forward, her thumb gliding lightly over his lower lip to wipe away the tell-tale smear of lipstick lingering there.
He held her gaze through the small gesture, smiling against her finger as it lingered a fraction longer than was necessary.
“Clearly not the impression you’re after,” he joked.
Eventually his eyes drifted to the shopfront.
“We should probably…”
Helen simply gave him a smirk, turning her attention toward the shop. “I have a reputation to maintain, at the very least.”
Nikola kept his thoughts in check as he strode over to the doors and peaked through the dark windows. Ordinary one tried to make a shop look open and inviting but Hamish wasn’t like that – he preferred his clients brazen and curious.
“He’s open all right,” Nikola turned the large door knob and pulled the rickety thing toward him. An old bell tingled as he did so, strung from a nail on the back side of the door. “I’d say, ‘ladies first’ but you’d only scorn me.”
Instead, he ventured into the poorly lit shop, tilting his head up to the surprisingly tall tiers of bookshelves. They looked like throwbacks to ancient Rome with netting wired over them in case of earthquakes or passing thieves and dust, god the dust…
Just to keep Nikola’s suspicions up, as they she walked through the door she pulled a key that looked easily as old as they were from her pocket. “It doesn’t matter if the shop is open for business. Hamish’s doors are always open to me, Nikola.” Yes, now she’s just being cruel.
The way that Tesla winced as the dust danced in the last beams of afternoon sun making their way into the shop brought a small, nostalgic grin to Helen’s face. One had to wonder how the man managed to survive with his aversions and predilections before the modern era he did so much to usher in.
At the tinkling of the bell, the heavy footsteps of Hamish sounded from behind distant shelves. Helen put on a bright smile as he emerged from a cloud of dust. A quick embrace and a kiss to the cheeks served as greeting. “I’m here for my book,” she crooned as if there could possibly be some other reason she’d come to see this man.
Nikola knew that she was playing him but could do nothing but mind his manners and keep a safe distance as Hamish embraced Helen in welcome. The old man was very Italian, and went in for a second peck. Nikola’s eyes rolled at the exchange and he made no effort to acknowledge his presence.
He was infinitely more curious about Helen’s key. It is not common practice to bring keys to bookstores, especially decorative ones like hers that bared all the trappings of age – a dull sheen, hairline scratches and that distinctive layer of silver sulphide.
Helen smiled politely, pulling back from the man. There was no need to introduce Tesla. It was likely they were already acquainted and, if not, there was little point in doing so now. While Helen had no doubt that Hamish would protect them until the end, there was no sense in throwing one more person between them and the Cabal.
“I can’t stay long,” Helen added, a note of urgency in her tone. “Little bit of trouble managed to find me,” she intoned, giving a pointed stare to Nikola. the man nodded in understanding. He murmured something about finding the deposit to his account before waddling off to get Helen’s goods. A simple book wrapped in paper and neatly tied with a piece of twine. The woman perked up, clutching the volume in her hands. “Thank you.” For a few brief seconds, she basked in her glee before turning to her companion. “Let’s go, Nikola.”
Nikola’s eyes were on the parcel clutched in Helen’s hands. He made a non-committal sound and stepped aside, allowing her to step past him and lead the way to the door. They stopped just before opening it – but well out of earshot of Hamish, who had vanished into another corner of his store.
“I hope you have a plan,” Nikola said to her, quite seriously, “because I cannot return to my lab.”
He wasn’t one to beg for help, but he was tired of fleeing – being a shadow on the edge of civilisation. Nikola had being doing it longer than her and with more organisations on the hunt.
“I have nowhere left to go,” he admitted.
Helen nods, taking a quick look outside before stepping out of the shop. “Of course I do,” she assured him. “There is a safe house on the outskirts of Rome. We can stay there for the time it will take for my contacts to arrange the necessary paperwork. Two, three days at most. I’ve been staying at the local Sanctuary, but that would be the most likely place of refuge.” Hence why they’ll not be going there.
Helen paused outside the door of the shop, offering the parcel in her hands to Nikola. “Will this fit in your case?” As if she hadn’t missed a beat to make that query, she continued. “We’ll take a series of taxis to the house, but we must start our travel quickly before the Cabal finds us once more.” Helen paused, then, wondering on him with a mild expression. She knew it was difficult for him to step around his ego and ask for help, hence why it was only in the most dire of circumstances that he called upon her. She also understood that was simply his way and no amount of chastising or assuring it needn’t be so would change it.
Nikola took the parcel with a snippy comment, even though his curiosity was more than peaked.
“I am not you caddy,” he snarled, wrapping his elegant fingers around the parcel.
Nikola could feel through the paper that it was a slight book – at fifty pages with a heavy binding. Nevertheless, he knelt down the ground – careful not to actually touch it, as he opened his brief case and laid her book beside his notes.
He was not blind to Helen’s gesture. After a second shuffling his things around to accommodate the book, Nikola shut the lid, locked it and straightened.
Catching taxis in Rome wasn’t like catching them in London. Most streets were too narrow for anything but people and scooters so Helen and Nikola found themselves hurrying along between the buildings until they emerged on one of the few main streets.
A tide of people and cars were squeezed together in the open space and amongst them, a speckling of taxis.
Once on the main road, hailing a taxi didn’t prove a difficult feat. Once they shuffled into the vehicle, Helen instructed the driver to take them to some random tourist site on the opposite end of the city. From there, they’d transfer to another cab and head once more to another part of the city before switching to yet another and making their way to the edge of Rome.
“Our best option is tourists. Easy enough since neither of us are Italian. A commercial flight will be booked and we will travel economically.” As she’d told him before, it would take a few days to get papers in order allowing them to travel with less chance of being tracked.
He sighed heavily as the word, ‘economically’ left her lips. Clearly they would be trapped in baggage class. Helen really was cheap – always had been – probably always would be. Nikola wasn’t one to talk though, as he was perpetually impoverished despite his best efforts.
Nikola nodded in reluctant agreement, glancing at the window of the taxi as a stand of weary poplars blurred past.
“I hope you have wine…” he said, still watching Italy out the window.
NIGHT TIME TRAVEL
Spending two to three days in a confined space with Tesla could prove to be Helen’s end. She’d contented herself reading through several books she kept at the house (and the one for which she’d come to Rome) and working diligently from her PDA. After spending the first day laying the ground rules (which included limits on how much wine he was to drink in a day and discussion of staying in the house except in the most dire of emergencies), Helen was pleased to learn their papers were to soon arrive via a courier.
Once the parcel was delivered (along with their airline tickets for that evening), Helen couldn’t help her amusement once she’d looked over the documents. “Nikola,” she called to him from the sitting room. “I have news for you.”
Nikola set his last allotted glass of red down on the table and slinked toward the hallway. He lingered in the doorway, arms folded across his chest as he observed Helen rustle through some papers.
“You called?” he said.
He was dressed in his only other change of clothes – a dark maroon vest over a black dress shirt with black trousers.
“Papers,” she stated, moving to hand him his needed documentation. If he flips through them, he’ll see a passport sporting his photo with the name ‘Milos Jovović’ printed on it, issued from the government of Serbia. It shows extensive travel through various parts of Europe. Among the documentation, he’ll find an IR green card, the type the spouse of a US citizen would have. The name listed as his sponsor reads as one Johanna Denton-Jovović, coincidentally, the name on Helen’s documents.
“It seems,” she droned on as if bored by the topic, “we’ve recently been married and have spent our honeymoon abroad. We’ll be flying back to the United States this evening.”
Nikola’s eyes languidly move from the papers in his hands to Helen’s bored look. He had read them twice, just to be sure.
“Maybe wine does affect me,” he said, slipping his passport into his buttoned pocket for safe keeping. “All I remember of Rome are bullets and mayhem … Mrs Jovović.”
Is he staring at her in a manner that he shouldn’t? Quite possibly. On occasion he can’t help it, especially when she purposely baits him by feigning disinterest in his existence.
For a long moment, Helen simply continued to look through her papers, completely impassive. “Enjoy it while it lasts,” she droned, the tone making it clear this little ruse was the closest he would ever get to her.
Finally, her gaze lifted to meet his, a flash of a startled look crossing her features. “Nikola, you’re leering.”
“So I am,” he acknowledge, snapping out of it. Nikola cracked into one of those smiles where it was impossible to tell if he’d been kidding or not. “I’m packed…” he nodded roughly in the direction of the front door where his briefcase stood next to her luggage. “And your driver is late.”
“I’ll thank you to refrain from staring at me like something into which you’d like to sink your teeth,” snapped Helen. She glanced over to the clock on the wall, mildly concerned by the time. “Only by five minutes. He could be stuck in traffic.”
Nikola pushed off the doorframe and gave her a lofty eyebrow.
“I don’t bite…” he snapped, and headed back to the lounge room to finish his glass of wine before it was snatched away.
Long plane flights – Nikola despised them – or was mildly wary of them.
He set the empty glass down and plucked a book from the desk at the corner of the room. It wasn’t his, but Nikola was not about to travel without something to distract from the precarious arrangement that was flight.
“Forgive me,” she offered almost instantly. That was not the best metaphor to use in the presence of a vampire. “I didn’t mean to imply that you would, Nikola.”
The sound of an approaching vehicle caught her attention. Helen peered out the window and watched as her driver pulled up to the house. “Our ride is here.”
“Pity doesn’t suit you, Helen,” said Nikola softly but sternly, as he retrieved his coat from the leather armchair and moved to navigate around her en route to the hallway.
He risked meeting her eyes with a brief glare, but it softened after a moment.
Her attention drifted from the approaching car to the direction from which Nikola’s voice sounded. “Pity insinuates I feel sorry for you. I do not,” Helen quipped, moving to get her own coat and her bag. Brushing past him to the door, Helen nudges his shoulder with hers. “Buck up, Milos. We’re newlyweds.”
Nikola’s shoulder jarred a little with the impact as he bent to pick up her bag as well as his.
“Yes darling…” he drawled for effect, “mustn’t keep them waiting.”
‘Newlyweds…’ she really did have a cruel sense of humour but wait – they had no rings. Anyone with half a brain would see through their ruse.
“Not to question your genius,” he said, laden with luggage as she opened the door, “but you forgot something…” Nikola looked pointedly at her bare hand.
“The letter that came with our papers, my love,” God, that just sounded so wrong, “informed me that our driver would be bringing that last small detail.” Then she grinned, sauntering out the door. “My genius is as great as yours.” Oh, yeah, she was teasing.
Nikola was forced to bite his tongue at that last comment of hers. Instead of detailing, at length, the many reasons why he outranked her in genius, he chose to follow her out of the house, frowning at the way she was enjoying the entire predicament.
The taxi waited on the gravel stretch between the house and the iron gates. The sky was beginning to darken and small specklings of light could be seen on the surrounding hills. Church bells rang out through the valley, marking the hour as they always did.
Their driver was leaning up against the taxi, having a smoke. He nodded in greeting as they approached.
“Dr Magnus,” said the driver respectfully, “Mr Tesla.”
Helen smiled to the driver, giving a nod of greeting. “Nice to see you again, Lucian,” she mused politely. Wide and varied were the contact of the great Helen Magnus. Walking to the back of the car, she pushed open the boot and turned to take the bags from Nikola. Once loaded, Helen closed the trunk and made her way back around to the driver.
“I believe you have something for us,” she stated, holding out her hand as the man pulled from his jacket a small envelope. From it, Helen dumped into her hand a pair of rings. “Platinum,” she mused with a frown as she inspected them. Far more expensive than she would’ve liked. Turning her attention back to Nikola, she held out the larger of the two to him. “Put this on.”
He hesitates. It was surreal at best. The white gold ring, beautifully worked but simple in its elegance, was nestled in her open palm.
Maybe this whole thing wasn’t such a good idea after all. He had not lied back in the catacombs on her last visit to Rome and this was worse than any form of torture he had endured.
Eventually reached out and, his fingers brushing lightly against her palm, took the ring. It fit perfectly as he slid it onto his finger, glistening against his pale skin. He hoped that she had not noticed the flash of emotion through his eyes. That was the last thing he needed – for Helen to see the pitiful, human side of him.
“Adequate,” he muttered, opening the taxi door for her.
Helen does notice his hesitation, the way his hand seemed to quiver every so slightly as he reached for the ring. She watched him intently, noting the way his lips moved and his strong, careless façade faltered. Once he finally put it on, Helen smiled gently.
“Good,” she mused to break the awkward silence settling between them. “I guessed right on the size.” Helen however simply closed her fingers around the remaining ring in her palm, not yet putting it on. “Shall we go?”
“Your carriage awaits,” he watched, waiting for her to disappear into the taxi before he closed the door firmly.
The driver gave Nikola a wink.
“Love is tough,” said the driver, then broke into one of his brief fits of laughter and coughing. He never ceased to be amused by the trouble Magnus got herself into.
Nikola ignored the driver, roamed around to the other side of the car, and shuffled in next to Helen. The metal on his finger was already warming as he pulled his own door shut and the taxi lurched into motion, turning out the drive and through the decorative gates.
“You should marry that thing instead,” said Nikola, pointing at the PDA in her hands.
It took a moment for Helen to hum in question. Another second before the she realized what he said. With a few decisive keystrokes, the PDA was tucked away into her shoulder bag and she peered over to Nikola.
“Oh, I will once it’s made legal for humans to marry inanimate, non-sentient objects.” Still coiled in her hands was that ring. The metal was warming to her own temperature, though her eyes lingered on Nikola. Ever since that moment in the lab, her mind had been wandering when there was time to spare. “You sound like a jealous husband already,” she quipped, holding out her fist to give him the other ring.
“Apparently,” he glanced at her outstretched hand, “I’m entitled to.”
His tone had lightened somewhat as the car continued to groan along the highway.
“Barely married two weeks and you’ve already found a better offer,” his lips twisted in amusement, still not taking the ring. “Not even wearing the ring…” Nikola withdrew the book he’d stolen from his coat and flipped it open lazily, skimming a random page.
She had played with him, and now he would return the favour. He wanted her to ask.
“Is that my volume of Yeats,” she asked, her brows furrowing slightly.
As if to draw more attention to it, Helen jiggled her hand in front of him. “Don’t be petulant. Do you want to put this on or not?”
Nikola’s will was not that strong. He gave in.
“Yes,” he answered, “to both questions.”
He let the book fall forgotten to his lap, extending his hand forward to hers and she dropped the ring into his grasp. It was lighter and smaller than his but adorned with a pair of perfectly cut diamonds. In every way it was more beautiful – as it should be.
He took her hand tenderly in one of his, brushing over her fingers deliberately until they parted. Finally, he singled one out as his other hand brought the ring to the tip of her finger, holding it there just shy of her skin as he lifted his eyes to hers.
Then, slowly, he slid it onto her finger until it sat snugly against her skin – his eyes never moving from hers.
“Now you’re Mrs Jovović,” he flashed her an honest smile.
Helen couldn’t repress the shiver that ran through her when his fingers brushed against hers. Suddenly, the metal she’d taken care to warm in her hand felt cool on her skin, like Nikola’s fingertips.
She faltered briefly, her lips parting to take in a sharp breath. Finally, her eyes darted to the book on his lap. Dark lashes fell closed as she recited her favourite of the author’s work (if only to distract from more personal thoughts).
“‘When you are old and gray and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face among a crowd of stars.’”
Nikola faltered, his hand, still holding hers, shaking slightly as he returned her whispered words.
“No, don’t approach me! I wish from a distance
to love and want your two eyes.
For happiness is sweet only while you wait for it,
while it’s giving only a hint of true self.
No, don’t approach me! There is more joy
in this sweet awe, waiting and fear.
Everything is more beautiful while you search for it,
while you only know its trace.
No, don’t approach me! Why and what for?
From this distance everything shines like a star;
From this distance only are we admire.
Ne, nek mi ne pridju oka tvoja dva”
Revel in the triumph of sending Helen Magnus into a moment of speechlessness. In Nikola’s hand, her fingers shook slightly. Dark lashes lifted, her eyes moving to meet his once more. That was completely unexpected.
“I’d believe it,” said the jarring voice of the taxi driver. He had been watching the pair through his revision mirror the whole way.
Nikola broke away from her at once. He had not meant to do that. He had really not meant to do that. Reciting poetry from his home land – to her – while she looked at him like that, their hands resting together, shivering with… No, he had not meant to do that at all.
She was still starring. Even turned to the window, Nikola could feel her eyes settled on him – no doubt scornfully.
That was all the distraction she needed to pull her fast and hard back to the reality of the moment. Helen let her hand fall away from Nikola’s, the metal band still cool against her skin. She kicked the back of the seat, jostling the driver with a small glare.
Helen’s attention turned back to her bag, fishing out her PDA. Once more her fingers moved swiftly over the keys. “We’ll be landing in JFK. It appears we’ll be there two days before catching a small plane to Detroit. The day after, my private jet will come to collect us and take us to the Old City Sanctuary.”
His eyebrows lifted a little as she kicked the seat.
“A private jet?” he mused aloud. “This new century has been good to you I see. Shame we won’t be enjoying such comforts on the most arduous stretch of the trip.” Was it eighteen hours – twenty? He couldn’t remember – it had been so long since he’d flown. Nikola had caught a boat from the states to Rome.
“Tell me,” he continued, “do all Victorian women own their own planes?”
Ten hours across the sea by plane. Less than an hour to Detroit. Another three or four to Old City.
“The Sanctuary network has its needs and we’ve the funds to see to them,” she offered. “It is used in dire circumstances.” She glances up from the PDA and over to Nikola, trying to ignore the heat rising in her cheeks.
“I don’t know any other Victorian women,” she pointed out.
“Dire indeed,” he meets her eyes – sees Helen’s cheeks unnaturally flushed – and promptly looks away. Nikola is blissfully unaware that his own complexion looks positively normal – for a human. There is colour in his pale skin and it has something to do with his shaking hands.
“I do – just the one though,” Nikola continued. “She was never very good at being Victorian though, not even when the century called for it…” He was, of course, speaking of her.
“What an un-gentlemanly thing to say,” Helen quipped. Even if it was a true thing to say. She wasn’t the only bad Victorian in this taxi. For a long moment, Helen was silent, even the tones of PDA went quiet.
“Nikola… about before,” she began in a more subdued, uncomfortable tone.
His heart stopped for a moment. Was she going to torment him further? God, he was hoping she would just ignore him for the rest of the journey but her tone was clear that she would not.
Nikola made a non-committal noise somewhere between a sigh and a grunt. Finally, he turned back to her and saw how she was paused, waiting, her eyes focused solely on him.
No, she’s not trying! “Put it out of your mind,” she advised.
He eyed her incredulously. Even if he wanted to, it was technically impossible given his Eidetic memory. Lying though, he was better at.
“Put what out of my mind?” rhetorical, of course.
They were well within the confines of Rome now, skirting along the edge of the city on approach to the airport. On one side of the car was a dusty chasm – an immense excavation of the ancient city below with sad hollows of buildings and half crumbling pillars lit with spotlights against the night.
An aircraft coming into land roared above the sound of the traffic.
The taxi continued on until they reached the airport, even the driver noting the thick, heavy silence. He drove them to the drop-off pointed, where Helen removed their luggage from the car and paid the man for his time and his silence.
After the vehicle drove away, she peered over to Nikola an affected a pleasant smile. “Milos, shall I check your bag?” The implied question, of course, ‘do you want to carry this on the plane?’ Helen’s shoulder bag held the important items she would need should their luggage find itself lost.
He had one of her larger bags strung over his shoulder, making his lofty figure lopsided. Nikola’s briefcase however, was grasped firmly by his side.
“Secrets of the universe…” he reminded her, with a healthy lashing of sarcasm. His bag would be coming on board.
They made their way inside the airport, dodging as best they could the endless stream of bodies, piled up against each other, humming about in frantic patters across the airports tiled floor.
The length of the check-in queues elicited a groan from Nikola’s throat.
“We’ll be old and grey by the time we get through this,” he muttered, and then turned to her with a pointed look. “And that’s saying something.”
“If you’re very patient,” Helen crooned solicitously, “I’ll ask if we can upgrade to first-class since we’re on honeymoon.”
“I don’t think we should be drawing any undue attention to ourselves – considering the circumstance…” the line shuffled forward, as did Helen, Nikola and the luggage.
An Italian security guard gave the line a close pass, his black hat with gold braiding weaving around the tourists.
“Besides, I have grown used to being impoverished,” he flashed her a smile with an ever so slight hint of vampiric teeth.
Helen canted her head gently to one side, her look mild, but incredulous. “And yet such a taste for fine wine,” she pointed out as an aside. Playing to her role, Helen stepped closer to Nikola, reaching to brush her fingers against his. “Simply too much distance between us in those large first-class seats.”
“It rarely belongs to me…” he explained, then stopped as her fingers brushed against his again. “Oh yes,” Nikola picked up the end of her tone, “those first class seats are entirely too comfortable and spacious. Still – I will miss the complimentary beverages.”
His fingers moved against hers.
Awkward. Though Helen keeps the smile in place as the queue slowly shuffled forward. It seemed like months passed before they were at the counter. Bags were checked, their boarding passes assigned, and the happy couple wished-well.
As they wandered away with their carry-on bags, Helen sighed. “How are you healing?” she queried in quiet concern.
It was a much more pleasant stroll now that he was free of Helen’s surprisingly heavy baggage.
“Completely,” he replied, but amended it to, “mostly…”
Other than the occasional throb of pain through the worst of the bullet holes, there was nothing to show of their scuffle in the library.
Helen was wandering toward one of the many cafes that lined the terminal, but Nikola’s eyes kept drifting to the clock beside the departure board.
“We really don’t have time,” he cautioned her, pulling himself to a stop and backtracking to where she was lingering at a particularly excellent display of sweet pastries.
Helen smirked over at Tesla as he doubled back. “There’s always time for scones,” she informed. “I don’t know how often you fly, but airline food is a step above prison and hospital fare. It’s best we get something here to take on with us.”
She smiled at the girl at the counter and ordered three scones for herself and a cup of hot black tea. Then she turned to Nikola. “What would you like?”
His eyes flashed at her as he drawled, “Coffee… black, lots of it.”
Reluctantly, with both hers and his beverages in hand, he loitered around the nearby newsstand while Helen waited on her scones. A private smirk crept over him. Scones, a definite weakness o the great Helen Magnus.
His eyes tracked over the newspaper titles as the endless drone of boarding calls added to the general noise of the airport.
Oh, but this was interesting, He leant closer to a particular stand.
MONSTER SIGHTING IN OUTSKIRTS OF OLD CITY
Nikola wondered if it was one of Helen’s pets out for a wander.
It wasn’t long for the scones. The girl at the kiosk wrapped them neatly for take-away and Helen tucked them into her shoulder bag. Helen padded over to Nikola’s side, peering over his shoulder.
“Mmm,” she hums in his ear, reading the headlines. “This is why my trip was to be brief. We have some trouble on the home-front.”
He feels her long, dark hair fall over his jacket shoulder as she leans in to read over him.
“So it is one of yours then?” Nikola moves slightly forward, freeing the paper and holding it up for them both to read. It is vague, as all news in the 21st century was. “I think we’ll keep this,” he said finally, folding it in half and slipping it under his arm.
She was still resting on his shoulder, her chin lightly pressing on him for support. Nikola wasn’t sure if he should move or not – he was not used to being used in such a practical manner.
“Have I suddenly morphed into a lectern?” he asked her lightly, turning his head just a little in her direction though it was difficult to achieve without crashing into her.
She reaches around for her cup of tea and nod in the direction of the terminal. “We need to check in there, too,” Helen advises.
“It’s something we’ve been trying to find for a time. Chances are, if it’s causing a noticeable commotion something got too close to its territory. It’s usually a docile creature living in the old underground tunnels of Old City. Every now and again, some unwitting person or Abnormal strays there and… well, natural instincts.”
“This is supposed to comfort me?” he hands Helen her tea. “Your Sanctuaries are magnets for trouble,” Nikola continued, as they set off toward the second terminal – the now stolen paper still under his arm. “But part of me suspects that you enjoy the constant peril.”
The first boarding call for their flight was already ringing out above their heads. Nikola took the opportunity to depart a look of disdain in her direction.
“Tardiness is another thing you enjoy,” he commented. “I remember how your invitations always carried a different time to the rest of ours. It was the only way to ensure you presence.”
Helen lofts a brow at him as they bustle toward the terminal. “I dare say you attract a far more dangerous sort of trouble than I, darling. I suspect you enjoy it as it gives you an excuse to contact me once more.”
She sips her tea in an airy manner, nose turned up slightly as they meander through the queue to board the plane. “Have you flown over the sea before?”
He dipped his head at her, darkening is playful glare as they paced.
“Fair’s fair, on this occasion it was you who bumped into me.”
Nikola drained the entire coffee cup in one go, depositing it in a nearby bin.
“Of course I have flown,” he answered her question. “1942, friend of mine owned a plane. Long story short, it was not entirely pleasant.”
Helen couldn’t help but laugh, clapping Nikola on the shoulder. “Planes have changed a great deal since then.”
“I am sure this one will be perfectly –” they rounded a corner and entered the glass lined lounges were the planes could be seen, waiting eagerly for passengers.
One had a pack of brightly adorned engineers clambering over it, another was making a most unhealthy sound as it tested its engines and the one closest to them had a man suspended from a crane picking bits of debris out of its nose. “Satisfactory…” he finished, not looking so sure.
She watched him intently as his speech slowed unnaturally. After a few seconds, Helen took his hand and squeezed it gently. The band of metal on her finger, though warm from her skin, is still notably cooler.
“There is a greater chance of being struck dead by a meteor than dying in a plane crash. I dare say even that might not kill you.”
“I am very sure that you will be the death of me long before that transpires, Mrs Jovović,” despite the lightness of his tone, he makes no move to let go of her hand.
They checked in for the final time and, as they were already late, found themselves ushered down the small connecting tunnel and into the large plane. As they had expected, their boarding pass had them seated in a non-descript second toward the back of the plane, well within the confines of Economy.
Amazingly they found a pair of seats nestled next to a window awaiting them.
Under normal circumstances, such behaviour would’ve earned him a serving of scathing wit. As it was, Nikola seemed genuinely unnerved at the prospect of flying, as evidenced by his hand still gripping hers. Once settled into their seats, Helen turns to face him with an indulgent smile.
“You shall enjoy every moment you have with me,” she teased.
“Is that a promise?” he replied, turning to her. There was a hint of danger in his eyes – the same that had been there in Rome, just before he threw her off the roof.
They were still holding hands – an action that played well with their cover though was not entirely necessary given nobody paid them more than a cursory glance. Nikola could feel her ring, cool on his skin. He hadn’t dared move his hand in case she remembered that he was still holding onto it.
Helen’s brows lifted as if in challenge for him to test her words. “Have I ever failed to show you a good time, Mr. Jovović?” she drawled with a note of amusement. She recognized that look in his eyes, her own daring him to try something in the confined space of the plane. She may not have her gun with her, but she could still make him suffer horribly for the next six to eight hours.
Helen’s free hand moved to rest over his, giving him a light, reassure pat. Despite all their snipping at one and other and their disagreements, she still sees Nikola as a friend.
“It’s going to be a long flight – I can tell…” he mused aloud, as she laid a second hand on him.
It was entirely impossible not to have flash backs to those moments (minutes?) in his lab, especially now that they were packed together so closely in these quite frankly, cheap arse seats. He could clearly see her giving him that daring look of hers – the one that said, ‘trouble’ like nothing else.
He must have been contemplating her – them unabashedly staring at each other – for a long while because the next thing he felt was his body pushed back in the seat and the plane take flight.
For his sake, Helen squeezed his hand more tightly as they plan took flight. She flew frequently and wasn’t horribly troubled by it. He on the other hand, seemed to have some trepidation.
Once they were at cruising altitude, Helen did retract her hands from his, digging through her bag for the book she’d picked up in Rome and a scone. Time passed in silence, Helen engrossed in her reading. It helped her ease the long hours of flight when she travelled.
Eventually Tesla put his memories of the shaky, hand-built aircraft of 1942 behind him and relaxed into the chair, staring out at the completely black porthole until an airhostess rudely snapped it shut. The divider between their seats was most irritating and by far the worst part of the flying experience. Nikola observed its construction quietly for a moment and then discovered that it could, indeed by lifted up out of the way – which he promptly did, removing the barrier between himself and Helen.
Then, he flicked open the newspaper he’d stolen earlier and began to read on about the strange creature sighted outside Old City. It sounded like some kind of extinct feline to him – perhaps some kind of rear wildcat imported illegally and then set free when it got too big and scary.
“Miracinonyx inexpectatus,” Helen droned at length. “Thought to be extinct. What it’s doing so far north, I’m not certain. We’re hoping to capture it and transport it to a Sanctuary closer to its native climate.” She closes the booking, shifting to look at Nikola. “Why did you lift the arm rest?”
“Because it hurts,” he answered, matter-of-factly. It was true – it did hurt. No matter how he rearranged himself in the seat it always ended up prodding into the side of his ribcage.
Nikola gave her an innocent look which was, for once, actually innocent.
“You object?” he lowered the paper.
Helen peered beyond him to the third party sharing their group of seats. She slid her hand against his, twining fingers with him before she moved in close. It seemed as if she was going to whisper, but instead speaks loudly enough for the other to hear. “I hadn’t meant to be so rough with you.” Now, she just wants to watch Nikola go red in the face.
Nikola continued her motion, tilting his head slightly to the side to avoid colliding with her – instead brushing against her cheek en-route her ear.
Instead of leading on the poor, tortured passenger beside them, Nikola made sure that only she could hear as he whispered, “Not to worry…” His face is half buried in her hair, but he can still feel her reddening as he continued, “You know I like it rough darling.”
And how colour burst into bloom on her face, causing pale eyes to widen. A hand lifted to push him away, though stopped short against his shoulder. If his injuries were, in fact, still causing him pain she didn’t want to add to that. Plus, she’d be compromising their cover. Not to mention, Helen had opened that can of worms. She should’ve known better with Nikola and his quick, often sharp wit.
She hadn’t pushed him away – probably because she didn’t want to blow their cover, he reminded himself. Whatever the reason, Nikola snuck a quick, soft kiss to her exposed neck, lingering there before he withdrew and returned to reading his paper as if nothing had happened.
Oh yes, it was a small victory. Helen was practically scarlet.
Practically? Please! She could put a poinsettia to shame!
The portly gentleman beside Nikola grinned and gave him a little nudge with his elbow during the moments Helen remained completely flabbergasted. She huffed out a breath, letting her hand fall away from his shoulder in defeat.
Despite surprise and embarrassment, Helen couldn’t stop her thoughts from drifting back to that stolen moment in Nikola’s lab, that moment she’d almost left him to fend for himself against the Cabal. Still she could feel the cool press of his lips to her throat, a hand lifting to brush lightly to her lips. After a long, silent moment, Helen shifted in her seat, leaning into Nikola before blatantly resting her head against his shoulder.
Now it was Nikola’s turn to colour as Helen settled on him, nuzzling against him slightly as she got comfortable. Scandalous threats he could handle but this, Helen resting gently up against him – it played havoc with his carefully built resolve.
Lost for an appropriate reaction, Nikola did something he had always wanted to do. Carefully, and without disturbing her, Nikola freed his arm from between her and the seat. Next, he lifted his hand up until his fingers could reach the stray curl of hair that had fallen over Helen’s face. Nikola hooked one of his elegant fingers around it and moved the wild lock tenderly to the side.
Certainly the trip to Rome proved eventful, more than Helen anticipated. Even after bumping into Nikola, being shot at, flung from a building, harried through the catacombs of the ancient city once more… After all that in the security of the safe house, Helen still managed little sleep. The endless toiling of her mind saw to that. With literally nowhere to escape to busy herself, Helen’s exhaustion finally caught up with her.
Though she wasn’t fully asleep, she was fast on her way, lips parted and breathing slow where she nestled against his shoulder. The brush of cool fingers on her cheek did little to jar her. She simply tilted her head slightly into the soft touch, letting out a quiet sigh.
Nikola swallowed as Helen moved against his hand, turning – burying herself closer in the warmth of his jacket. Yes, he may be a vampire, but Nikola was still alive and even he had enough life to warm a jacket.
In truth, this was the reason he had left all those decades ago – vanished from the world and from her. He had always loved Helen, despite his protests and whining and scheming and – well, everything. Nikola had not lied about that. It was hard watching her with John back in Oxford, laughing and smiling with him when all along Nikola had known of John’s dark side. It was harder still when, after a hundred years Nikola could not stop the quickening pace of his heart and shortness of breath whenever she approached. It was impossible knowing that she would always belong to someone else.
But now here she was, hovering on the edge of sleep – trusting him and Nikola couldn’t keep his eyes from her.
It would be a terrible lie to say that Helen had no lovers since John. A woman has her needs after all. There’s only so much loneliness one can bear through the decades. She’d even had a handful since Ashley’s birth. Still, it was different to just lean into Nikola, to rest against him with such trust as few have earned from her. If he knew, he’d clearly see it’s a deeper sort of bond she extended to him than to most men she’d had in her life.
Which isn’t to say Helen would admit to or is even aware of the feelings she may or may not have for Tesla. Despite all they’ve been through, she would happily step up to help him when the need arises. Even if Nikola hadn’t vanished for six decades, Helen would’ve kept her distance, as she did with James. All the more reason to relish what time she had with him.
She nestled in closer, shifting in her seat to settle against him. One arm tucked up against her, laying lightly across her stomach while the other hand came to rest on his thigh. Though she was almost lost to sleep, there was a comfort to be had in knowing Nikola, her old friend, someone who understood her better than so many others, was right there.
Nikola exhaled deeply, deciding to finally give in and enjoy whatever this was that Helen was giving him. He moved a bit as she did. Oh, she’s comfortable with him all right – she always had been – since Oxford.
As Helen curled up to him, Nikola lowered one of his arms, lighting draping it down her shoulder and along her arm until his hand rested on top of hers, both rising and falling on her stomach in time with Helen’s sleepy breaths.
He let his head rest back into the seat until, as a pair, he and Helen were lounged as best they could in the confined space – and all the while Nikola tried desperately not to think about the hand she’d decided to leave on his thigh.
Helen sighed in content, the puff of air soft and warm against Nikola’s throat. To anyone walking by, they could very well be just what they were pretending: a couple very much in love. Helen, of course, being a Victorian woman put little stock in the endurance of romantic love and more in the ideas of trust and comfort in a kindred spirit. She’d always felt, as most Victorian women, that love came with time. John had been an exception to that rule, she was certain.
But Nikola claimed to have loved her for so long, despite everything. Time, distance, John, Ashley, even their own altercations. Whereas, despite the same things, Helen had always felt comfortable with him. Though others may doubt it, she knew beyond all doubt that he would be at her side should she need him.
Quite some time passed while Helen slept in Nikola’s arms, dreams of a peaceful life moving like shades and spectres through her mind. As pleasant as sleep was, she was too soon jarred back to reality by a particularly rough patch of turbulence the plane encountered. Blue eyes snapped open, wide, pale, and alert. Her fingers tensed against his leg, back straightening as consciousness was thrust upon her. A second, perhaps two, passed before Helen recalled they were travelling. One more before the realisation that she was snuggled against Nikola.
“Oh dear,” she murmured softly.
Nikola, roused from sleep, caught the end of her sentence, mumbling his reply through a thick haze of sleep.
“What is?” he said, his eyes slowly opening to the dim light of the cabin. It took a few moments for him to realise that he had been asleep – with Helen cuddled against him – on a plane – that was now bouncing through pockets of air.
It was a kind of artificial twilight inside the plane with most of the passengers sleeping, snoring in the near-darkness with only the occasional reading light casting halos of light over their owners.
At some point during the many hours they had apparently been sleeping blissfully, someone had thrown one of the complimentary blue blankets over them to stave off the inevitable chill of air-conditioning.
If he hadn’t been awake on the first jolt, the next once certainly did it. Nikola’s head rolled to the side then jerked up – properly alert as he felt Helen’s hand tense against his thigh and her body stir awake.
Helen let out a sleepy grunt, blinking away the lingering haze. A quick glance around the darkened plane brought the realisation that they weren’t yet landing. Her hand lifts from Nikola’s leg, rubbing at her eyes.
“How long did I sleep?” inquires she in a quiet voice.
The wrist with his watch was currently buried somewhere under the blanket covering them. That particular hand of his was still cupping hers – resting comfortably on her warm skin.
Nikola averted a yawn as he tried to speak.
“About as long as me,” he replied, most unhelpfully. Nikola never slept in public and he felt quiet disoriented waking up to an environment that had clearly been moving and changing while he wasn’t watching.
The turbulence was settling now – more than likely they had just cleared a mountain range.
Helen’s eyes blinked rapidly, a surprised look overtaking her features. “You… slept?” The awe wasn’t so much in the fact that he’d slept, but that he’d done so as they were fleeing the country and while in a mostly public place. Then she noticed the blanket, his arm around her and a slight heat came to her cheeks.
He frowned at her.
“Stranger things have happened,” he said, defiantly. “Besides,” he continued, his frown becoming a challenging smirk, “you slept too.”
Was she blushing again? He couldn’t tell in the half-light – it robbed all the colour from the world. Though, Nikola had to admit, it did little to calm the violent blue of the blanket thrown over them. It was just in its own little universe.
“What do you think,” he started, purposely glancing at the blanket, “worst blue you’ve ever seen?”
Nikola sleeping is rarer than her sleeping. “I’ve been shot at, chased, and thrown from a building in the last few days. I rather think I’m entitled to some rest.”
She’d never admit it, but she’s thankful for the change in topic. Peering down at the blanket still draped over them, Helen smiled lightly. “Even in the half-light it’s nearly blinding.”
And thoroughly kissed, he wanted to add to that list but didn’t. His thumb grazed over the back of her hand as he considered her – but they were interrupted by a sharp click.
All around them, the lights of the plane flickered on and the seat-belts signs flashed. A few people groaned in protest as the chime of the pilot’s intercom rang out.
“Good evening ladies and gentleman. We are now beginning our descent … please return to your seats.”
There was a general shuffling of disapproval around them as people glared through the new light, gathering up their things and re-arranging themselves. As for the third passenger beside Nikola, he had been squished into the side of the plane but didn’t seem to mind.
They would have to untangle themselves – but that meant admitting that they were indeed, tangled up.
Helen joined in the collective groan. She was far too comfortable and not horribly inclined to move. Helen shifted in her seat, pressing closer to him before moving slightly back. The hand his fingers crushed against under the blanket moved to take hold of his.
“H-” he went to protest with her name, but amended it to, “Johanna…” as she continued to do the exact opposite of what they were supposed to be doing.
Somehow she was getting closer to him, something Nikola didn’t think possible after having the one and only Helen Magnus asleep in his arms. Her hand was threading through his and his objections were falling away with every millimetre she claimed.
Helen’s look was quizzical. She opened her mouth as if to speak. Maybe something more?
Alas, the moment was ruined when a stewardess came to snatch their blanket away and chide them for not sitting properly while the place descended.
“She certainly told us,” Nikola, now seated correctly with nothing but the myriad of creases in his good jacket to show for last few hours, pulled the armrest back down between them to avoid further scorn. “It’s a good thing that your Italian is rusty,” he assured her.
Helen pulled her hand back in silence. Once the arm rest was returned to its proper position, she glanced over to him with an awkward look. “We must’ve slept most of the way.”
Nikola’s eyes dropped to his mostly ruined coat as he said, “Evidently…”
Truth was, they both looked rather ruffled with his hair jutting out oddly at the side where he had been resting against the seat.
He couldn’t help a satisfied smirk on his lips as he looked at her.
Helen lifted her hands to smooth, then fluff out her hair. She brushes a few wrinkles from her shirt, the platinum band around her finger catch the light and drawing her eyes. For a brief moment, she simply peered at it, captivated, before she returned to preening.
Nikola kept catching her glancing at her ring but chose to say nothing.
“You look fine, he assured her, as she continued to flit about beside him.
He on the other hand, well, he looked like most people did after long haul flights.
“Where exactly are we?” he inquired, as he had not even checked his tickets.
Of course he‘d say that! She could roll around in mud and he’d still tell her she’s beautiful.
Helen pauses in her fussing blinking off the last remnants of sleep. “Uh… New York.”
Nikola frowned inexplicably and turned away.
He hadn’t been expecting that feeling upon realising that he was about to return to the city where most of his ‘life’ had been spent. So many memories – tragedies – friends and they were all gone. History had even forgotten him.
“Oh,” he said quietly, before his eyes returned to her, a little paler than before. “New York.”
The shift in his demeanour didn’t go unnoticed. “We won’t be here long,” she assured. “Our flight to Detroit leaves in the morning.”
“Plenty of time to get caught and killed then,” he mused aloud in a light tone, flicking off whatever that moment of quiet had been.
“My bet is that the Cabal travelled first class…”
Helen snorted at that. “You don’t think they’d have taken the opportunity in the sin hours in which we slept?” Why, was that a little stab at him for not staying awake?
Nikola gave her one of those, ‘like that was my fault’ looks.
“Maybe we played our roles a bit too well,” he teased, “and they simply passed us by.”
Neither Nikola or Helen could know that that was exactly what had happened on the flight – or that an innocent couple three seats behind them were about to be pulled up by security on arrival.
A good thing for contacts.
Helen turned to Nikola, lifting a hand to smooth over his hair on one side. It was standing up unnaturally from being slept upon. Her smile was soft, almost fond. Once done she took his hand and mused, “Welcome to America, Milos.”
“Worrying…” he observed her. “Whenever I see you with that look, trouble is never far behind.”
Nikola’s fingers slid from Helen’s, running over the back of her hand until they curled around her wrist, holding her in a gentle grasp. In a quick, simple movement he had flipped her hand over, exposing the base of the wrist where the palm met onto which he lowered his head and pressed a kiss into the delicate skin there.
It was worrying all right – worrying how easily they slipped back into this closeness – how the centuries apart were quickly forgot and the need to paw at each other won out. Each testing the other’s boundaries until someone tapped out. It was a dangerous game they used to play and Helen usually won.
“I am not sure America is ready for me,” he grinned, his breath warm on her skin.
Pawing! He makes it sound as if they’re randy teenager with no sense of propriety!
The touch of his lips to her skin took Helen by surprise, though she hid it well. A slight widening of her eyes, a quick, soft gasp for breath were her only betrayals. Nikola undoubtedly felt the speeding of her pulse at the touch.
“I’m not sure I am,” she murmured in reply.
The plane was landing. A slight bump as its wheels hit the tarmac was the first Nikola and Helen knew of it.
“I guess we’re going to find out,” he replied – let it linger – and then added, “because it appears we have arrived.”
The bump jarred her senses back, her eyes narrowing slightly as she glanced toward the front of the plane. It was barely a few seconds since they’d touched ground before Helen’s PDA was in her hands.
“A driver will be awaiting us. We’ll be staying in…” Helen stopped, a small frown pursing her lips. “We have a decadent room in Times Square.” Far more expensive than she would’ve liked, but it helped to keep up the appearance of a honeymooning couple.
The flight attendant swept past them as soon as the plane had come to a stop, leaving a trail of expletives at the sight of Helen’s PDA in use.
“She really doesn’t like us,” he grinned, rising from his seat behind Helen – his briefcase uppermost in his priorities.
There was a general shuffle as the passengers became a solid mass, funnelled through the plan and out into the terminal where they immediately began to disperse. They were almost at the baggage carousel when Nikola heard it – angered and confused voices coming from gate they had just departed. Without drawing attention, Nikola tilted his head and glanced over his shoulder through the crowds of people.
“Helen,” he said quietly, directing her attention to the airport security pulling up an innocent couple while a Cabal agent lost his temper.
She glanced back casually, one hand clutching her bag, the other his hand. Helen’s eyes didn’t linger long. “We need to hurry. Fortune is on our side for the time being.”
Though the last thing they needed was to draw more attention to themselves. She couldn’t shake the edge of nervousness as they gathered their luggage from the carousel and made their way to the car awaiting them.
“Niiiiice…” he tilted his head up to the chandelier tangled high up in the ceiling.
The hotel was gorgeous – a vast improvement on the hovel he had occupied last time he had been in town. It was difficult not to let his eyes wander around the various art displays as they wandered toward the check-in desk.
“This is certainly the best escape plan I’ve ever been a part of,” he hissed under his breath.
Helen snorted a breath as she followed along beside him, her eyes trailing over the decor of the place. Far too ritzy. Helen was already dreading how much this was going to cost her.
“I rather preferred planning your funeral in ’43,” she hissed back with a frown. “Can you at least fake an Eastern European accent for our check-in?” It would make their cover more plausible.
“I’ll try not to take that personally…” he drawled back in his best Croatian accent.
Oh yes, the stay here was going to take a stab at Helen’s bank account but unlike him, she was uncommonly apt at acquiring finance. Case and point – her castle-like residence.
“Ah yes…” Nikola said, as they approached the reception desk with a pretty, well kept girl tapping away at a computer behind it.
For her part, Helen played the role of the eager bride, fidgeting slightly while clinging onto Nikola’s free arm. She left the check-in process to him, only dropping the façade once they were alone in the room.
“Honestly,” exclaimed she as she paced through the decadent room. “As if my contacts couldn’t have found something more modest!” Helen didn’t fail to realise that this was the best cover. After all, surely the Cabal would expect that she’d hide out in a modest hotel. What better way to keep them off the trial than to travel economy then book the honeymoon suite of an opulent hotel in Times Square.
“I saw a deli just down the street. I’m going to get some supplies. Do you want anything?”
Nikola strolled through the lavish room and found himself a leather couch by the window. He folded himself into it, lounging back with his shoes on the graceful arm.
Instead of answering her, Nikola glanced over his shoulder at her with a look of disapproval. Satisfied that he had been left alone after the door closed firmly behind her; Nikola quickly spun around and hopped off the couch, taking the opportunity to inspect the room properly. Yes it was most certainly an expensive room. The enormous windows looked out over the city while the fashionable furnishings gave the room a clean but comfortable feel – something you could easily live in. (Or maybe he would always hold a soft spot for hotel rooms, given his history of residence in them?)
Finally his eyes rested on a false cupboard underneath the kitchen area. That was no cupboard… He wandered over to it – tapping its sheer surface lightly with his finger.
It was the mini bar…
Not only did she see a deli, but a drug store, too! Needless to say, between buying snacks to tide them over for the night and the next plane ride and purchasing some decent skin and hair care products, Helen was gone nearly an hour. Upon her return… Nikola pointedly wasn’t where she left him. She’d never admit to the flash of worry in her eyes as they scanned the area and found nothing.
Except an empty minibar.
Whatever concern she’d felt evaporated as she followed the trail of tiny, empty bottles to… the bedroom. Inside, Helen gave the man a blank look. Partly because the candles and rose petals were so… something (and clearly he either hadn’t seen the bottle of champagne or he was saving it), and partly because there was Nikola, draped out across the bed and the flowers, surrounded by those little bottles from the minifridge.
They were all empty – of course – hardly enough to keep him busy. Indeed, he had consumed the entirety of the minibar – one of the many reasons why it was unwise to leave Nikola Tesla alone in a hotel room.
Nikola heard a pair of feet pad into the room and draw to a halt at the door. His eyes fluttered open from the half-sleep he had been enjoying. As it turned out, beds were infinitely more comfortable than airplane seats. Languidly, he rolled off his back, onto his side to find Helen, shopping in hand, looking a little miffed. A few rose petals dislodged around him, tumbling over one another.
“Ah,” he sighed contentedly, “room service…” The way he accentuated the observation with a cocked eyebrow suggested he wasn’t after food.
Helen. Just. Stared.
Then, without any hesitation, she reached into the bag from the drug store. With one hand, she thumbed off the cap of a leave-in hair conditioning spray and promptly spritzed Tesla with it. Like a half dozen times.
The first jet of slimly liquid took him by surprise. All of a sudden there was something cold and wet stinging his eyes which promptly slammed them shut with a muttered, “Urgh…”
The initial strike was quickly followed by a succession of secondary attacks as his chest and neck fell victim to the conditioning bottle.
Finally Nikola realised exactly what she had done. He wiped his face with the back of his hand, removing the gel.
Ruined… was all he could think as he looked down at his shirt.
“What – was – that – for?” he growled, seriously displeased with the overpowering rose fragrance now wafting from him.
“I’ll appreciate you minding your cheek despite this ruse,” Helen snapped. Then she added, “Be thankful I don’t have mace.”
Nikola’s eyes flashed dangerously back – their vampire traits turning his pale eyes into black marbles.
“I see your sense of humour hasn’t improved,” he hissed at her.
With great difficulty, he began to slide forward and manoeuvre himself off the bed without dripping the conditioner on the bedspread. Anyone who didn’t know him better might have suspected that his sluggish movements and occasional fumbling betrayed his abnormally high blood/alcohol content.
That amused her. She watches as he slithered away, moving to pick up the trail of bottles from the bed to the minibar. “Every time I see you, I find myself thrown into danger,” she called after him. Once the room was tied, Helen sank down onto the edge of the bed. A few minutes passed before she frowned. Why hadn’t she noticed before Nikola went into the bathroom? A few minutes more left Helen shifting this wy and that before finally she walked over to the door.
“Don’t come out of the shower, Nikola. I… have to use the toilet.”
Nikola froze for a moment – the shower spray already hot and pouring over him. The Bathroom was extensive but (tragically) lacked a shower curtain. It was a mostly open-plan shower with a curved wall that one could try to hide behind, albeit not very effectively.
Heavy layers of steam filled the air like a kind of fog, blurring the world a little.
Nikola backed away toward the wall as he heard the door open.
Not to worry! Helen’s got her eyes on the ground to keep them from wandering anywhere unsavoury or inappropriate. Such a decadent bathroom matched the motif of abundance in this room. Oh, how Helen shivered at the thought of its price.
The thought flicked through her mind that Nikola’s going to use all of the hot water in the building. So much steam in only a few minutes’ time… For that, however, she was thankful. It at least gave them a small measure of privacy.
Damn Nikola thought to himself, when he reached for the micro-bottles of shampoo and conditioner that were supposed to accompany showers at hotel rooms. There weren’t any. Not fond of the prospect of standing for an unknown amount of time cursing the modern shower for its oversight, Nikola decided to make use of his unwanted guest.
“Helen…” he started, ducking out of the stream of steaming water just enough to speak. Nikola assumed she was listening, though she gave no answer. “Pass me whatever it was that you just bought – please,” he attached as an afterthought.
Oh Lord. Helen rolled her eyes and breathed out a sigh.
“I didn’t bring it in with me,” she hissed from the toilet. Instinct caused her to turn her head she spoke, though she quickly jerked her eyes back to the floor. She had, in fact, left it on the sink which was out of reach. “Give me a moment.” As an afterthought, she added, “Might want to step out of the water.” Because she’s going to flush now.
He was going to – and maybe he did by a step or two, but Nikola quickly realised that that wasn’t going to work. The (what Nikola now considered to be poor) design of the bathroom meant that he had to endure the cold rush of water for the sake of his modesty.
Nikola suddenly felt very compromised and wondered what fit of folly had induced him into what was about to happen. He turned the temperature of the water up to something near scalding, creating more clouds of mist to obscure the room. It was almost suffocating.
Helen would’ve looked away, Nikola. His modesty is as important to her as to him. Once she finished her business, Helen moves to grab the bag with the toiletries she purchased. Without turning fully toward him, she reached out to hand him the plastic bag with the soaps and shampoos.
“God, Nikola, how can you breathe?”
He stifled a cough – the water vapour clogging his lungs.
Nikola heard her approach and thrust his hand out for the bag, misjudging slightly causing his hand to accidentally clamp around Helen’s wrist.
“Sorry…” he muttered, fumbling over her hand until he found his way to the plastic bag. Nikola could just see her face through the plumes of mist tumbling around them. She was looking away. Her hair was damp, falling around her face nearly dripping. God, she hadn’t changed in over a hundred years.
The touch startled Helen and she turned to face him, though swiftly wished she hadn’t. Colour rushed to her face and Helen quickly raised her eyes to and locked them on his face. “…”
As she turned to face him, he saw her eyes run from the floor to his face, causing his breath to catch. Thank goodness for the mist. He was surprised to see her cheeks flush as her eyes settled on his face. She was getting rather drenched now – the water from the shower splattering over her.
For a moment, one short, sweet moment, Helen was lost. That is until she heard her blackberry ringing angrily just beyond the bathroom. She pulled her arm back with haste, her fingers losing their grip on the bag of toiletries. “I need to get that,” she offered as an excuse to leave the bathroom in a hurry.
Nikola, of course, dropped the bag and had to fish around through the mist for the shampoo once Helen had gone in search of her blackberry. He wasn’t quite sure what had just happened but something had definitely happened.
Shaking his head, Nikola turned the hot water down – if only so that he could breathe, and began lathering up his hair. How had he gotten himself into this utter mess? And why, god why, did Helen have to pick such florally shampoo?
Beggars can’t be choosers, Nikola. At least this would be better for his hair than the hotel’s offerings. A few minutes passed, Helen’s voice muffled by distance, the closed door, and the spray of the shower. A few minutes more before there came an urgent knock at the door before it opened just a sliver. “Shake a leg, Nikola. We need to get out of here.”
Could he not enjoy five minutes of peace? Nikola looked up in confusion, oddly surrounded by bubbles.
“Go?” he shouted through the spray. “We just got here…”
He was in no mood to go anywhere and was it just his imagination or did Helen sound more insistent than usual.
“The Cabal have caught our scent,” she offered in a grave voice.
Nikola actually sighed and lowered head, the shower washing away most of the soap. Reluctantly he turned it off and wrapped one of the towel-bathrobes around himself, pacing over to the slightly open door.
He can see Helen just shy of it, by the bed pacing frantically around.
Nikola cleared his throat to get her attention.
“My clothes?” he says, as they are no longer in the bathroom where he’d left them in a heap.
Once he called out, Helen nudged open the door, praying silently he at least had a towel to protect his modesty. “Something clean,” she informed, gesturing to the neatly folded clothes in her hands. Yes, let’s ignore the fact she took them from his suitcase. He’d notice that she’s also in different clothes, her usual black leather. Just in case.
“My my,” Nikola purposely lounged in the doorway – his bathrobe a tad loose. “You’ve been in my suitcase,” he observed.
Somehow the urgency of the situation wasn’t rubbing off on him. Nikola usually responds to threat best if he can actually see it.
Her eyes skimmed over him, her lips set in an unimpressed line. Helen sauntered over, her step deliberate. Why, was that an exaggerated swish of her hips as she moved? The clothes in her hands were thrust against him and Helen remained still waiting for him to take them.
“If I have to throw you down and dress you myself to get you out of here before we’re captured or killed, don’t think I won’t do it.”
Nikola swallowed hard. He made no effort to take the pile of clothes from her (which she was currently crushing).
“My my,” he rolled the words in a playfully threatening way, “what a curious proposition.”
She is, in fact, crushing the clothes against him. A good thing the room is still so full of steam that it could possibly pull any wrinkles out of them. Helen gave the bundle a little push into Nikola chest as she glowers at him impatiently.
“We haven’t the time for games, Nikola,” she pressed, urgency lacing the words. “Get dressed. We can play later.”
Nikola rolled his eyes dramatically and backtracked into the bathroom, closing the door behind him.
He reappeared a few minutes later, dressed in a CRUSHED suite with damp, spiked hair which only added to his unimpressed demeanour.
Nikola roamed through the bedroom, stepping into his shoes as he goes.
Helen, of course, was pacing through the room, eyes moving from the door, to the window, to her Blackberry. She looked up at Nikola’s words, urgency etched into her face. “We don’t have much of a head start. It seems as if they haven’t managed to pin down our aliases yet, but we need to move quickly.” She paused to type into the phone and then tucked it away into a hidden, inner pocket of her leather jacket. “Let’s go.”
Nikola retrieved his briefcase and hoisted her heavy bag onto his shoulder.
“Are you aware,” he made it to the door, opening it just a crack to check that the hallway was clear, “that your major relationship in life is with a machine?” Nikola looked back over his shoulder, hinting at the pocket of her leather jacket where the phone had just vanished into.
“You might want to work on that,” he advised, opening the door fully and stepping aside to allow her to leave first. “Immortals before geniuses…”
Helen snatched up her smaller bag, pulling the strap crossways over her shoulder, and padded toward the door. “I rather think that applies to both you and I,” she mused as she stepped into the hall.
“Nikola, you’re hardly an appropriate person to lecture me on relationships. Especially with technology made possible by your work…” Helen jerked her head for him to follow. “I left the card key in the room, we can check out virtually in the morning.” Down the hall she want, alert and attentive for any sign of danger.
“So what you’re really trying to say, rather in-eloquently,” he closed their hotel door so it didn’t look completely like they’d left in a rush, “is that you’re actually having a relationship with me – well, my work, that is.”
Nikola followed her with his signature, paranoid glance over his shoulder.
“I knew there was something odd about the way you looked at my saucy little book – as you called it.” Not that he was letting her name his inventions.
Good thing he’s behind her so he doesn’t see her rolling her eyes. Once the elevator arrives, Helen reaches in to hit a random floor before waiting for another elevator to arrive. And people think Tesla’s paranoid. Helen steps into the next elevator, pushing the button for the lobby with impatience. Once more she pulls out her humming Blackberry and peers at it with consternation.
“The head of the New York Sanctuary chartered a private plane for us. It leaves as soon as we get back to the air port. She says there’s a taxi waiting for us two blocks from here.”
Nikola watches with amusement.
“It doesn’t matter how many decoy lifts you send down, they’re still going to be waiting for us at reception – unless you care for another freefall?”
He steps into the lift with her and this time it’s his turn sigh as she pulls out her blackberry. Again.
“Two blocks?” Tesla looks far from amused. “Were they lost?”
“They’re not here yet, according to my intel,” she pointed out. “We need to hurry though,” Helen insisted. “The distance is due to traffic. Have you forgotten we’re in Times Square?”
“Please…” he drawled, “how long have you known me?” As if the great Tesla forgets.
The elevators opened with an ominous, ‘ping!’ to reveal a rather suspicious looking lobby. There were far too many business men pretending to read upside down newspapers, twitching towards the elevators.
“Is this room how you remember it?” he muttered, wondering just how far it was to the glass doors on the opposite wall. He also glanced at the fire exit to their left – a move which definitely attract attention.
Helen’s eyes scanned the room and she nodded in approval when Nikola glanced to the fire exit.
“Nikola,” she whispered. “There is nothing in that bag I can’t part with.” Yes, he’s free to drop it or throw it at any attackers. “Walk toward it causally unless someone runs at us.”
“Because it wouldn’t be at all suspicious if I were to leave your bag in the middle of the lobby…” he grinned at her. Still, Helen Magnus short on clothes? Maybe he would abandon the case after all.
Nikola did as he was told and pretended to head towards the magazine rack that was near the fire exit. There were definitely eyes following them, eyes that weren’t in the least fooled by his subterfuge.
“Pesky little things,” he commented, swerving toward the fire exit.
Before he left the lift, she swatted him in the chest for being cheeky. She too meandered in the general direction of the fire exit, waiting for Nikola to bolt. She watched as eyes fell on them and fingers flew over keys sending their location to who knows where.
“Go,” she murmured.
Nikola heard her murmur in his ear and he instantly relaxed his hand around the handle of her bag – dropping it to the floor with a loud crash.
Well, that certainly got their attention. Half a dozen men launched themselves from their seats and skidded over the marble floors in pursuit.
Nikola hit the fire exit door first, pressing down on its metal bar before throwing it open. He ushered Helen through it and then slammed it closed, pausing for a moment to lay his and on it – imparting a nice little electrical surprise for the next person lucky enough to touch it.
Helen darted out the door, sparing a backward glance to ensure Nikola was still behind. At some point, she’d pulled the Blackberry from her coat and peered at it. “Nikola, here!” she called to him, all but diving into a nondescript taxi that came screeching to a halt in front of them.
Halfway into the taxi – Nikola grinned with satisfaction as the fire exit door sparked, marking the demise of at least one Cabal agent. The taxi, meanwhile, began to speed off without the least bit of consideration for him, and Nikola had to launch himself through the open door, slamming it behind him, to avoid being left in a pile of dust on the street behind.
“So much for your luxury hotel,” he straightened his jacket and set his briefcase safely on his lap. “What can I say – their wine was cheap and their lobby infested with rodents. Your taste is definitely slipping.”
“Slipping?” she panted in question, peering out the rear window as the driver (not just any driver, but an agent of the local Sanctuary) made quick work of the traffic, putting distance between them and the hotel with impressive skill. “It should’ve been obvious in the troublesome company I’m still keeping.”
It wasn’t long that they were on the road, speeding to less crowded parts of the city that Helen was once more consulting her Blackberry. A sudden jerk of the vehicle to one side, pulled her attention away. The sound of shots were cause for alarm.
“I think they may still be following us…” Tesla said sarcastically, twisting around to look behind before suddenly ducking out of the way of a volley of poorly aimed bullets.
“This constant peril is not working for me,” he slumped against the seat, well aware that the shell of the car was no match for automatic weapons. “And yet you are still focused on your blackberry,” he noted, as Helen’s head dipped once again to the screen. “Honestly, I’m actually starting to feel the cold pang of jealousy,” he finished melodramatically.
Helen graced him with a scathing look. The sort that clearly showed the inappropriateness of his wit. Then again, Nikola’s comments were often pointed during these most inopportune of times. “Change of plans,” she called over the squeal of tires and the ruckus of one, two cars pulling up to their vehicle. She pushed the phone back into her pocket and drew her own weapon, preparing to return fire.
Over the noise and the rain of shattering glass, Helen called out to the driver, the man doing his very best to escape very untimely death as well as pursuit. A small charter plane is waiting for them at private air field, if only they can get to it. “Jealousy doesn’t sui–” The words were cut off as another hail of bullets tore through the rear window. Helen cried out as one struck her, splattering hot blood across Nikola’s face.
All the sound was ripped from the world except the sharp cry from Helen as her body jarred. Nikola’s eyes closed instinctively as the warm spray of blood fell across his face. It wasn’t his.
When he opened his eyes, it was in a moment of shock. The driver was arching his head back, shouting something over and over but all Nikola was looking at was the dark spread of red across the side of Helen’s shoulder and her gaze starring into nowhere.
“Helen…” he whispered, through another onslaught of bullets, diving across the seat to catch her as she began to slide into view of a Cabal car pulling up beside them.
Glazed eyes stared out at nothing, the slack expression showing little other than shock. For a moment, she pressed a hand to her injured shoulder, pulling it away to see the blood on it before the rest of reality seemed to come back into sharp relief.
That arm was going to be useless until it was tended to, Helen thought with no small measure of consternation. Gun still in her good hand, she looked to Nikola through a haze of pain.
“I need you…” A rough jerk of the vehicle cut her off as did the volley of shots fired at them once more. “I need you to get my Blackberry, Nikola. It has the directions the driver needs…”
Nikola caught her bloodied hand in his as she withdrew it, the gun slipping to the seat between them as the car swerved.
“I need you…” he heard her say, as a fresh round of bullets sounded the demise of his side window. It rained safety glass, covering them in tiny scratches. “…to get my Blackberry…”
The scorn on the air was palpable.
Nikola reluctantly let go of her hand and carefully (as best he could in a swerving car), hunted it out inside her jacket pocket.
“Any last words for your blackberry?” he quipped, holding it aloft.
Helen panted softly, glowering at Nikola.
“Lose it, accidentally or otherwise, I will destroy you.”
Surely he knew better than to toss it, their lifeline, right now. Her contacts that helped them thus far would be put in danger, locations and travel plans exposed. It simply wouldn’t be a good plan. Holding on to consciousness grew more difficult and Helen slumped against Nikola.
“I’m trusting you… to get us out of here.” And then all went black.
He was about to make a snarky remark about it being ‘worth the risk’ when Helen seemed to rock unsteadily and all of a sudden she was on his shoulder, mumbling incoherently until she slipped into unconsciousness.
This wasn’t good… Nikola thought, as Helen slid from his shoulder into his lap, leaving a dark stain of blood over his suit. She was losing far too much of it, even for an immortal.
The taxi swerved again but this time it deliberately hit the Cabal-driven car beside them, knocking it into a street lamp. The impact threw Helen and Tesla roughly around the backseat and then again as the driver pulled a handbrake turn into a gravel drive leading to a small airstrip where a private jet sat waiting, lights on – ready to go.
“Drive not crash!” Tesla screamed at the driver, stowing Helen’s gun in his briefcase before turning her over, checking her pulse, not wanting to watch the way colour was leeching from her skin at an alarming rate.
The driver stopped looking at the road and glared at Tesla shouting, “You don’t like my driving?!” He too, had narrowly avoided being shot, as evidenced by the bullet hole in the headrest of his seat.
Nikola eased open Helen’s jacket just enough to see the wound on her shoulder better. Her white shirt was now dark red and torn in an absolute mess that he had no time to investigate further.
The brakes were slammed on without warning and the taxi fishtailed to a stop beside the plane.
“Get out of my RUINED car,” the driver yelled, glanced nervously at the three cars following them, turning onto the tarmac not far away.
Nikola kicked open his door, causing another hail of broken glass. The driver was out as well, pulling his gun and aiming it at the oncoming Cabal cars. Nikola thrust his briefcase and Helen’s bag at him.
“Get these to the plane – NOW,” at which point the driver obeyed.
Next, Nikola pulled Helen gently across the back seat until he could slip his arms underneath her and lift her from the car, scooping her up so that her head fell against his neck.
He swore at the screech of the Cabal cars pulling up around him. They were already opening their doors and aiming their weapons.
Helen in his arms, Nikola sprinted the short distance to the waiting plane where several Sanctuary personal had begun returning fire. Nikola was at the foot of the jet when he remembered…
…Blackberry…in the car…
“What are you doing, man?” one of the men said, as Tesla paused.
“The – the…,” Tesla tried to explain before deciding that it would only waste time. “Hold this,” by ‘this’ he meant, ‘Helen’. The man started to protest but was given no choice as Helen was transferred to his grasp.
“Christ, is that Helen?” was all Tesla heard him say as Nikola swivelled, bowed his head and raced back through the party of bullets to the car.
This better be gods-damn-worth-it… he snarled, as a bullet clipped is jacket but not him. Nikola retrieved the damnable piece of technology and somehow made it back to the plane uninjured and unimpressed. “You don’t want to know,” he hissed at the scowling man, holding the door open.
CITY OF GLASS
Sleep clung to Helen stubbornly. She fights for consciousness with great effort, a soft groan and the slight flutter of lashes alerting any nearby that she’s coming to. Her vision is blurry at first, taking a few blinks to focus and cast off the remaining sleep from eyes. The dully coloured ceiling and walls weren’t familiar to her, nor the scratching sheets drawn up around her frame.
A few seconds more passed before Helen recalled the car chase and fire fight. Worry lances through her, followed by a sharp jolt of pain as she tried to push herself upright. A hand flew to her shoulder, Helen now noting the bandages beneath the simple tank top. That’s right, she’d been shot. Pale eyes widened, then. Had she been captured? And where was… “Nikola?!”
Nikola’s head popped into view at once, bobbing up and down beside her. He was on the floor, next to her bed, hunting out an awkwardly placed powerpoint in a last-bid attempt to charge Helen’s Blackberry.
“Steady,” said Nikola, dropping the cords in his hands. He stood up and re-arranged Helen’s pillows, fussing around so that she could sit without injuring herself further. “That was no scratch,” he nodded at her bandages.
There were still a few residual scratches on his face from the glass. Some of the deeper ones appeared as angry red lines darting over his face at odd angles – much like Helen’s although she didn’t have nearly as many.
Yes well, being passed out in Nikola’s lap certainly helps to keep the glass shards from her face.
A worried line creased her brow, pulling her lips into a downward bow. Having just woken, Helen hadn’t yet had time to steel herself against outward shows of emotion. Her hand reached to him, grabbing his with a firmness wholly uncalled for in a calm situation.
“Where are we?” Her eyes flicked over him, scanning him for any sign of injury. “Are you all right?”
Nikola was tugged unceremonious down toward the bed, causing him to lean oddly as Helen clasped onto his hand, crushing it with her urgency.
“Middle of nowhere – known affectionately by its inhabitants as, ‘Toledo’.”
He noticed that she was pulling him a little closer, glancing over his cuts and abrasions. Typical, she was the one who was shot, not him.
“Am I all right?” he eyed her scornfully. “The better question is are you all right?”
Helen closed her eyes and breathed out a sigh, her fingers slacking in their grip. “I’ll live, I’m sure.” When her eyes opened once more, they were clearer, more intense than before. “How long have we been here?”
Nikola felt her relax.
“Not quite a day,” he answered, brushing a few wayward curls from her face as she clearly hadn’t noticed them. Nikola’s fingers hovered over her skin, barely touching it as he restored her hair to some form of order.
“The surgeons operated on you mid-flight – they did a good job,” mainly because he spent every spare second threatening to feed off them if they didn’t. He really hoped they didn’t tell her that. He’d be in SO much trouble.
Helen’s eyes drifted closed once more and she smiled as she exhaled. At length she finally chuckled, though it did make her shoulder ache fiercely.
“Damn it. I really liked that jacket.” Helen groaned quietly as she shifted against the pillows to get a better look around the room. “I suspect this is going to be home for a few days.”
“On that front,” Nikola untangled himself and rose to his full height, “I can be of assistance.”
He paced over to the far end of the room, opening a wardrobe from which he withdrew a hanger with Helen’s jacket.
It looked – fine.
Nikola roamed back and laid the jacket out in Helen’s lap on the bed.
“The test of a good jacket – can it survive a decent fight?” He smiled. “And you are correct, I expect we’ll be here for a few days, doctor’s orders. Also, there’s a contract of sorts out on our head…can’t think why.” He tried to look innocent.
The moment was spoiled by an unhealthy ‘beeping’ sound from the floor beside them. Nikola’s lip curled up in a silent snarl.
Perplexing! By all rights there should’ve been a bullet hole in that jacket but… Helen couldn’t find the slightest flaw. Whatever awe she felt at that feat was forgotten by the sickly beeping of her phone. A laugh tore from Helen, causing tears to spring to her eyes (both form pain and amusement).
“Is that my…?”
Nikola was practically glowering.
“Unfortunately – I don’t think that it likes me,” he said, bending down to retrieve it.
Try as he might to keep it alive, it seemed determined to die after its heroic rescue.
He placed it in her hands at which point it seemed to shift to an affection ‘beep’ rather than one of displeasure.
“See…” he muttered.
“Despite your thoughts to the contrary, it has no feelings.” And then Helen did something most shocking: she pressed the button that powered off the Blackberry. She set it aside and turned her attention to Nikola. “Thank you, Nikola.”
Nikola gave the abandoned and finally silent machine a second look. Eventually he dragged his eyes away from it and back to Helen, who looked remarkably serene.
“If I hadn’t run into you in Rome, I’d probably be locked in a Cabal lab by now. All this – is,” he doesn’t normally admit to these things, so it takes him a few goes to say, “my fault…”
The amusement melted from her face and her fingers still clutching Nikola’s hand tightened. “Nikola,” she murmured, her voice both sympathetic and chastising. “You are far too precious a being for the Cabal to every hold captive. If this is the price to keep you free, I pay it gladly.”
He averted his eyes at once, suddenly finding a patch of wallpaper fascinating.
“You shouldn’t have to,” he replied, his eyes closing. “It was too high.”
“I know that were situations reversed, you would help me.” There’s no doubt in her words at all. Despite whatever questionable encounters they’d had in the past, Helen knew she could count on Nikola. He could easily have left her behind for the Cabal, but he hadn’t.
“I’ll be fine,” assured she. “Stop this fretting.”
His gaze flicked back to her.
“Don’t tell anyone though – it would ruin my reputation.” Nikola squeezed her hand in reassurance. “Rest a while – you can get back to thwarting my plans for world domination later…”
Helen looked down to his hand, returning the squeeze gently. “No rest for the weary, Nikola. Every moment I’m not actively thwarting you, you’re making headway.”
She takes another look around the dull room, noting the ‘security’ measures. The door is bolted and a chained, the curtains drawn. And then her gaze fell to Nikola once more. “Are you… you’re hovering.”
“No choice,” Nikola replied perfectly innocently. “My … hand,” he said, hinting at the way she had clasped onto it a while ago and made no plan to release it.
What was not innocent was the way he lowered himself perhaps a millimetre closer – nothing she would notice.
Her eyes move to their clasped hands and she manages a resigned smile. “You’re worried.”
“Sh…” he shook his head at her. “People will hear you.”
Nikola? concerned? Please! – well, maybe just a little. Repeated and prolonged hand-holding wasn’t usually a sign of hostility.
A look of completely unimpressed disbelief came over her face. “What people? We’re the only ones here!” Then her eyes widened slightly, concern flickering into them. “Were we followed?!”
Nikola laughed lightly, highlighting the deeply embedded smile lines around his face.
“Not that I know of – it was quite a daring escape we made. Car chase – plane taking off through a hail of bullets – emergency mid air surgery – hauling your sorry state across the tarmac…”
Helen frowned, giving him an unhappy look. “Don’t forget this is your fault.”
“But you forgive me…” his grin only got wider. “You always do.”
“A quality you take for granted,” she snapped. “My patience has bounds, Nikola.” She pulled her hand free of his and gave him a friendly swat to his shoulder. “You could do to be a bit kinder while I’m laid up.”
“Ow,” he mocked, looking intently at the place where she had swatted him.
Kinder? he mused. “Then I shall do the gentlemanly thing, and allow you to get some rest,” said Nikola, leaning down after a moment, to gently kiss her on the forehead.
Helen smiled gently, waiting until the last possible second to tilt her head back. Yes, Nikola, she learned that little kiss stealing trick from you.
Instead of meeting with Helen’s forehead, Nikola’s lips brushed over Helen’s in surprise.
An involuntary gasp escaped him as Nikola realised what she’d done. Helen’s head tilted further, sliding Nikola’s mouth against hers – prolonging their stolen kiss.
A trick learned from the master. Helen’s eyes falls closed and she leaned upward, into the kiss with a soft groan thanks to the ache in her shoulder. There was no effort made on her part to put distance between them. In fact, Helen’s lip parted slightly against his.
He was vaguely aware of her pulling him gently down toward her – of her uninjured arm gliding over his back and the way she moaned against him – parting her lips.
Nikola’s hands splayed onto the bed either side of him, supporting his weight as he teased his tongue over Helen’s lip.
It didn’t linger long. Helen knew better. She pulled back slightly, just enough to give them room to breathe, but still kept her arm around him, not quite ready to let him escape completely.
That fraction of a second was enough for it to dawn on Nikola what they were doing.
Her eyes were enormous and frighteningly close to him. For once they weren’t glaring at him with suspicion or chiding him for insolence – they were simply looking at him.
“Uh…” Nikola managed, not quite as smoothly as he would have liked. It was surprisingly difficult to speak when you couldn’t breathe. “I think I might have your meds checked…” there was no other explanation for her – friendliness?
Nikola began to slip slowly from her hold.
She let him move away, her hand falling back to the bed as Helen let out a soft breath. It was odd seeing him insecure, amusing, but odd. The man was usually so confident in everything. A gentle smile came over her face as she watched him move away.
“They’re fine, Nikola,” Helen assured. He’d hear no explanation from her as doing so would imply that there had to be some reason she’d kissed him other than simply wanting to do so.
Nikola didn’t say anything – instead he just kept backing away, crossing the room without turning – opening the door without noticing that he broke its locks and finally closed it, shutting her safely behind it.
He stared at the closed door.
Finally, Nikola turned and laid himself against the cool surface of the door, dipping his head with a sigh.
After several days of laying low to let their trail go cold, Helen was feeling restless. Cooped up the Sanctuary was one thing. Cooped up in a tiny hotel room was another completely. There were only so many times she could soak in the small bath basin and read through the woefully small amount of literature on Toledo. Finally, Helen emerged dressed and styled.
Nikola was not far away, perched on the open windowsill – still reading that stolen book of Helen’s.
“What are you doing walking about…?” he asked sternly, lowering the book with a playfully-cross expression. Truth was, Nikola was relieved to see her strength returned and damn she had dressed to kill. Why though, he wasn’t quite sure as there was nowhere to go.
Oh, she knew he was going stir-crazy too. Flipping open a page in the catalogue advertising the Toledo Museum of Art, Helen held it out to him. “Let’s go here.”
Nikola squinted at the image on the page and slowly raised his eyes back to her questioningly.
“You want to go to the Museum,” he said slowly, clarifying. “Now…” Her continued silence meant that he was on the right track.
Nikola’s brow furrowed a bit as he closed the book.
“Your near-death-sympathy-credits are wearing out,” he reminded her, as he hopped off the sill like some kind of bird.
“It’s either that or the zoological gardens. There seems little else to do in this place.”
Helen Magnus was beckoning him forward and all he could do was roll his eyes and throw the book into a nearby chair.
“Museum first,” he said firmly. “The animals are always more friendly after they’ve been fed.”
Nikola managed to twirl, collect, and put on his coat at the same time – buttoning it as he led the way to the door.
Helen chuckled lightly. “We’ll get a decent meal while we’re out,” she offered, snatching up her own jacket as she sauntered toward the door.
They weren’t in the museum five minutes when Nikola discovered that he had a fondness for glass. Fondness – fascination – whatever it was, he felt compelled to touch every delicate expensive object he could find.
This display, of course, was not helping Helen’s health as she watched items worth thousands rock unsteadily as Nikola let them.
Helen gave Nikola a hard look each time he moved to touch the art. Once or twice she even made to swat at his hand.
“Nikola,” she hissed, reaching out to bat at his hands, though checking herself to spare whatever valuable item he was poking at. “Stop it!”
“I can touch or buy,” he replied. “The latter may leave you as impoverished as me.”
Nikola averted her swatting hand, pacing through the aisles of glass structures, trailing his fingers over them so that they bobbed behind him like a wave.
Eventually his luck ran out – as one rather large, especially pretty vase teetered past the point of no return and began its descent toward the ground.
Helen glowered after him in silence. That is until he started touching things again. She paced after him, righting any of the more precariously wobbling. Until that vase began a-tumbling.
“Nikola!” Helen screamed out in a breathless voice. Yes, she was diving for that vase, trying to slide between it and the floor.
Nikola’s shoulders hunched instinctively, awaiting the crash and accompanying crunch of glass – but it never came.
He whirled around to see Helen splayed out on the floor, her palms extended expectantly and the expensive vase held aloft by – the curator…a gentleman of about fifty who looked none-too-pleased.
The man glared first at Helen, (because she was closest) and then at Nikola, halting his hand mid-air as it reached for another precious item.
“Out…” the man managed through gritted teeth that rivalled Nikola’s.
Helen didn’t know whether the curator was more angry because she’d made so much noise or because she was presently bleeding through her clothes onto the floor. With difficulty Helen pulled herself to her feet, scowling at Nikola before turning to apologise whole-heartedly to the curator.
She waited for no explanation, grabbing Nikola by the collar of his shirt and dragging him toward the exit. As she left, she promised the curator a hefty donation to his museum as an apology for the troubles.
Outside, Helen glowered at Nikola, pacing dangerously toward him. “I have faith in your ability to do great things,” hissed she. “I am quickly losing faith in your ability to do the simple things. Adhering to certain social norms of behaviour, for example. Those things in there do not belong to me, nor to you, and yet you touch them, play with them as if they’re simply toys, without regard for their value or fragility or for what a bumbling imbecile you appear to be for doing so!”
None too pleased about being dragged around by his collar, Nikola did little but roll his eyes through her scolding. He’d heard much worse.
“Aw, come on…” he eventually said, when Helen paused briefly to take a sharp breath.”It’s been decades since we’ve been kicked out of somewhere.” More than a century, actually – British Museum, 1889 though Nikola always maintains that that was her fault.
Nikola’s grin was decidedly cheeky until it suddenly turned into a concerned frown. Without explanation, he reached forward and began undoing Helen’s jacket – pushing it to one side to better see where all the blood was coming from.
Oh, she just kept on glowering, pushing his hands away. “Good of you to be concerned now for the ramifications of your actions! You used to be so far-seeing! Immortality has dulled your brilliance!” Yes, she’s just taking her jabs where she can at this point.
“Oh lighten up,” Nikola said off-offhandedly, as he batted her annoying hands out of the way.
“Keep still woman,” he scorned, as she continued to struggle against his efforts.
Nikola had slipped her soft cotton shirt down over her shoulder as well now, and was inspecting the two stitches that she had partially town. He was also completely unaware of the strange looks passersby were giving them.
“Nikola,” Helen snapped, glaring at the man. “This is positively indecent, stop it!”
Nikola paused – indecent? – oh… He suddenly noticed the creamy curve of Helen’s shoulder on which his hands were resting.
He lifted his right hand and picked up the edge of the cotton shirt, sliding it slowly up to a more respectable position. Nikola flashed her a frown a cross doctor might give.
“You’ve torn your stitches,” he stated matter-of-factly, trying to ignore the way his pulse had picked up pace.
Next, he reached to her sleeve and straightened her jacket, putting Helen back exactly the way he had found her.
Helen glared at him, her eyes both hot and cold in their anger. “You tore the stitches,” she growled. “With your childish antics and thoughtlessness!”
Nikola stepped backwards with a dangerous look. She really was determined to chide him despite his best efforts.
“You said you liked it rough…” he declared, thinking back to the plane.
He couldn’t understand why she was still mad at him. Nikola had never been a particularly normal person – he couldn’t help his unsocial tendencies and really, he did try.
Colour flashed across her cheeks, her eyes widening slightly. Damn his eidetic memory!
“I’m leaving you at the zoo with the rest of the animals!”
“Mere bars will never hold me,” he assured her, entirely satisfied by the flare of colour to her cheeks.
However, Nikola did not miss the important part of Helen’s comment, namely, that she had no intention of abandoning him on a foreign street. No need for all her hard work rescuing him to go to waste.
Without further words, Helen pivoted on her heel and began to stalk off toward their rental car. The drive to the zoo wasn’t long, but oh was it tense. Helen in her fuss decided it best to give Nikola the cold shoulder rather than lecture him. She’d begun to believe he was like a poorly behave cat, the sort that looks right at you before making mischief just to be sure it has your attention.
At the zoo (which is one of the best in the nation, the brochure boasts!) Helen paid the admission for them both and promptly ducked into the gift store. Maybe she could find a leash to keep the unruly vampire on.
He was genuinely surprised when she didn’t ask for an adult and child when buying the tickets – though her new tactic in dealing with him seemed to be to ignore him outright.
That was fine by Nikola – silence helped him think. He didn’t begin worrying until he caught Helen in the ‘pet’ section of the gift store, snooping around leads and collars.
He swooped slowly past her, cocking an eyebrow – making sure she saw it – and then continued on his way to the zoo entrance.
Oh no, she was getting a child harness for him. Helen grinned as she picked up the item and took her purchase to the counter to pay. Outside of the store, before they once again mingled with the crowd of zoo-goers, Helen smiled sweetly and beckoned Nikola over.
Nikola, who was hovering by one of the free-roaming peacocks, wandered over to her. She looked – like she was up to something.
“Mmm?” he replied, unfolded one of the free maps he’d been handed.
A wicked smile spread over her lips as she sauntered over and promptly snapped a wrist cuff onto his arm. In her hand, Helen held the end of the tether to keep Tesla from wandering off.
“That’s much better. Let’s be off, then!”
Nikola lifted up his wrist and inspected the article tying him to Helen. He blinked.
“You didn’t tell me you were into bondage,” he quipped, just as he was yanked sharply by the leash. He nearly tripped, having to take a few quick steps to catch up.
If people weren’t looking before, they certainly were now.
“This is you laying low?”
“If you hadn’t proven yourself a hopeless fool at the museum, this wouldn’t be necessary. I don’t think you can regenerate entire limbs should they be torn off by animals you feel inclined to poke.”
Helen sighs. Of all the people in the world she had to be stuck with, it just had to be Nikola.
“It’s not the exhibits that I’m afraid of ripping bits off me,” he stated, as she continued to drag him along.
“The aquarium is nearest,” Helen droned, giving a little tug on the leash. Oh, how that brought a smile to her lips. Though, in honest, even a straight jacket couldn’t restrain Nikola if he didn’t want it to. At least he was allowing her this little delusion of control.
“Have you ever seen flashlight fish?” inquired she, as they meandered into the vestibule of the aquarium. Just inside was a dark display with curtains draped over it and a small group of people waiting their turn to go inside.
Large volumes of water suspended overhead made Nikola nervous. He’d never been fond of the stuff after first drowning in it and secondly electrocuting himself for the first time.
Nikola realised that the leash worked both ways, and decided to test his theory with a light tug.
“No…” he replied, “but I am fond of the dark.”
Not to worry, Nikola, this is one of the oldest buildings in the zoo. There’s no over-the-head water displays. Merely large displays of tanks with local and exotic fishes, small sharks, jelly fish, moray eels, etc etc.
Nikola kept pulling the leash toward him, winding Helen in before she realised what was happening.
“Don’t stray too far,” he cautioned, as the stepped into the darkness of the exhibit. “Wouldn’t want to get lost…”
And then he let the lead slack.
Oh, she noticed. She simply chose to ignore it. Sadly, they weren’t alone in the small, dark exhibit. Bodies piled in behind them, from the sound children and teenage girls all jumbling and jostling about to get a look at the flicker lights of the fish.
One rough bump pushed Helen into Nikola, her hand lifting to his chest to keep herself from running him down. In the darkness, she could barely see the gleam of his eyes as she peered up at him, pressed flush against him. The flicker of the fish went unnoticed as the breath caught in her chest.
The room was aglow with the flicks and bursts of the Flashlight fish as they glimmered out of the darkened tanks like fishy-stars.
Nikola could see Helen perfectly in this near blackness – one of the perks of being part-vampire. Though what he hadn’t expected was to end up with one Helen Magnus colliding with his chest – her curves perfectly fitted against his body while her hand worked its way up his suit, apparently under the pretence of ‘steadying’ herself.
He stumbled, set slightly off balance by her but thankfully found the solid edge of the building rather than a bumbling crowd.
“No more wine for you…” he whispered, trying to ignore the way her breath hitched.
“Mm, more likely light-headedness from blood loss,” Helen breathed our slowly. She slid her hand up to his shoulder where she patted him firmly. “Remember those stitches you tore?” Her hand lifted to lightly pat his cheek before she moved away, tugging the leash.
When her hand ran up his shoulder Nikola felt a ripple of electricity follow it.
I tore? Nikola thought to himself. Hardly.
As Helen pushed away from him, giving a sharp pull to the leash, he couldn’t help the spark of static electricity that jumped through the air in a bright flash and discharged on the metal handle of a door.
He seriously hoped that no-one saw that – perhaps the Flashlight fish would cover for him.
Victory is sweet and you can bet Helen relished it in silence. That tiny crackle of static might have been overlooked by another, but not by she. A small smile touched her lips as they moved from the flashlight fish into the aquarium proper.
“I read in the brochure that there’s a rainforest exhibit with free-flying birds.” Anything to ease the silence that was settling. It was comfortable, but Helen wasn’t sure she liked how pleased she was at startling Nikola like that.
Nikola was ready to agree to just about anything as long as it took them out of this pitch environment where his occasional spark was far too obvious for his liking.
Besides, he was feeling a bit peckish – an exotic bird would make a nice snack.
“I like birds,” he drawled, following her (though he had little choice).
“I seem to recall a fondness for pigeons,” Helen teased. As they walk, she slowly wound the tether around her hand, leaving less distance for Nikola to move. She certainly didn’t mind this little game; it gave her something other than the Cabal threat and the ache in her shoulder about which to think.
Helen’s seen so many rare and exotic creatures, there isn’t much a zoo can provide her in terms of entertainment. Though, she drifts to a stop in front of a tank of moon jellies. They’re just so pretty and shiny!
Helen’s winding him in, shortening the leash with every absent turn of her hand. Nikola wonders if she’s forgotten she’s doing it while she gazes up at another tank of jellyfish – their enormous blue forms like giant electrons wafting through space.
Eventually his hand brushes against hers – completely out of leash. He carefully lifts his eyes to Helen who is still enthralled in the tank. Nikola purposefully lifts one of his fingers, running it softly over the palm of her hand.
Helen’s breath caught at the soft static poke. Thought she made no effort to pull her hand from his touch. In fact, her fingers curled gently around his. Maybe it was the slow float of the jellies around them, but time seemed to slow as Helen turned to look at Nikola bathed in the blue glow.
“There you are,” he said, as she turned slowly toward him. It had been a while since she had really seen him through all their running-from-death and usual bickering.
Another jelly fish floated by, leaving a trail of light across Helen’s face. Nikola felt her fingers curl around his.
He lifted his other hand and brought it to the side of her face, brushing her wild hair behind her ear. There, she looked practically the same as she had in 1888, hair colour aside.
Helen breathed out slowly, her eyes slightly wide and more luminous than usual. Perhaps it was something about the light, their proximity, or maybe just the fact that all her anger seemed to dissipate. Whatever it was, Helen seemed to forget the throng of people meandering about them.
“You should kiss me now,” she murmured. “Before I change my mind.”
The hand lingering on her hair snuck down to rest on her neck as Nikola stepped forward, closing the distance between them before Helen could finish her sentence.
Half a breath from her, he tilted his head to the side and let his eyes fall closed as he brushed his cool lips briefly over hers – leaving her wanting…
“We can’t have that,” he whispered.
“Mmm,” Helen hummed, keeping her eyes half-closed. Her fingers trail up the back his hand, lingering at his wrist. She sighs out a warm breath against his skin. “That’s too bad,” she murmured, making quick work of the fastening on the kiddie-harness. “You’re on your own taking care of that static problem.” That said, Helen pivots away from him, brushing the curve of her hip against him before sauntering away.
A spark snaps between Nikola’s now free hand and the metal edge of the jelly tank with a sharp crack that several tourists notice and begin backing away from.
He thought he’d settled that little problem more than a century ago – but evidently not when Helen was close by.
Helen is already turning away from him, her body purposely brushing over his eliciting a moan louder than was decent.
“Helen…” he nearly pleaded, his hand falling down her shoulder and ending at her waste where it blocked her escape.
She gives him a hard, chastising look, a little embarrassed by his outcry. Good thing for her the eerie blue light from the jelly tanks helps mask the colour in her cheeks.
Turning back to face him, Helen moves in close enough to whisper, “Yes, Nikola?”
But Nikola isn’t interested in asking a question.
He takes the opportunity of her hesitation to regain the ground he’d lost between them. Nikola leant further towards Helen – unable to help the slight currents of electricity surging through wherever their skin touched as he move to steal a more demanding kiss from her, something that he has wanted to do for more than a century.
Helen’s hand slid along Nikola’s arm, her fingers twining with his. Her eyes fluttered closed and she breathed out as their lips met. She parted hers easily, allowing him into the wet heat beyond.
“Helen…” Nikola’s lips only just managed to murmur against hers before he felt them part beneath him, enticing him forward.
The kiss deepened immediately, drowning out the world as his tongue rolled over her top lip and then found itself lost in her, sliding against hers.
His hand tightened around her waist while the other roamed up her back, through her hair until it cupped the back of her neck.
Carefully, Nikola tilted his hips and in a slow, fluid motion, began to twist Helen to rest in his lower arm.
To say she wasn’t surprised by the drama of the kiss would be a lie. Helen lifted a hand, letting it settle comfortably on the back of his neck. It was as much an intimate gesture as a practical one.
Helen’s tongue moved against his, mindful that Nikola likely wasn’t expecting her to reciprocate. Somewhere in the back of her mind she registered the ‘awwws’ and ‘ewwws’ from those around either thinking their public display of affection cute or disgusting.
Nikola answered Helen’s enthusiasm with ardor, pressing his lips closer to hers and tilting her back even further. His arms encircled her now, holding her securely as Nikola kissed her languidly and passionately.
Most of the crowd were now in favour, encouraging the random pair that had decided to steal the show from the jellyfish.
Those who weren’t paying attention simply continued by admiring the fish. Nearby, and older gentleman commented that they must be newly-weds.
Helen clung to Nikola, hoping only not to over-balance and topple over, though that though was far from the front of mind. No, it was the warmth of him against her (though still far cooler than a regular human), the taste of him and the faint scene of ozone that always seemed to surround him that dominated her thoughts.
Just as the crowd leered in to watch as Nikola’s mouth moved in for what was definitely a second kiss, a strange crackling sound began working its way around all the tanks and through the low lighting.
Oblivious, Nikola moaned softly into Helen’s mouth as she took control of the kiss from him. Her hands were clutching at him – he could feel them crumpling his good suit but he didn’t care. He held her more tightly, keeping her impossibly close as if he were afraid of her vanishing.
Suddenly, a bright light tore through the air, splaying out in jagged rivers and hitting some of the nearby tanks. It was over as quickly as it had started, but it left the room in complete pitch except for the glowing jelly fish.
The crackle of the electricity and the flash of light before it went dark. Her lips lingered only a moment longer before she pulled away with a panted laugh.
“Nikola!” She exclaimed in a breathless whisper. “Tell me it was you this time?”
Nikola realised that the (now slightly frightened) eyes of the room were on them. The crowd was positively fearful of the sudden absolute darkness that they had been plunged into.
Helen though, seemed relaxed in his arms. He pulled away from her with a satisfied smile and said.
“Oh yes, that was me.”
“We should pretend it wasn’t and find somewhere safe.”
“Safe?” he said against her ear, nipping gently at its lobe with just a hint of sharpened teeth. “Vampire – remember?” Nikola finished, before righting her – carefully setting Helen back to her feet.
Oh he had wanted to do that for a long time.
She’s still mostly tangled in his suit and Nikola hasn’t even noticed the strange angles his hair has acquired since Helen’s fingers ruffled it.
Helen licked her lips and pulled back enough to look him in the eye (as best she could in the jelly-glow). “I have a few tricks up my sleeve that will keep me safe from the likes of you.”
“That sounds like a challenge…” he replied, returning her bold look with a mischievous one of his own.
Nikola noticed that her eyes were heavily dilated in the blue-light, drinking him in unabashedly.
In this game, Helen usually won. She was the bolder of them, despite Nikola’s best efforts.
Helen reached out for his hand, clasping it in hers and giving a light tug. “Let’s get out of here.”
Nikola’s shoulder went down with the tug before his feet kicked in and followed.
“You are aware, I trust, that you have just quoted the most cliché line in television history…” Nikola digging for trouble? Playfully perhaps.
God, he felt like he was back in Oxford being dragged by Helen to the library in pursuit of another one of her insane ideas.
“Where, exactly, are you absconding me to?”
Helen smiled, pulling him through the crowd.
“Some place with light so I can better keep my eye on you.” Once outside of the aquarium, Helen stopped, putting her hands on his shoulders. She looked over him, an amused expression on her features.
“I thought you took care of that little problem years ago.”
“I did,” he said, as her hands roamed to his shoulders, building another current inside him. These public displays were going to be the death of him.
Nikola’s head fell back slightly, trying to abate another spark. Thankfully this time it was hard to pick out it from the bright day.
“You’re doing this on purpose,” he muttered.
She nodded, brows lifting in amusement. “Yes, well, it is entertaining, I must admit.”
“I can think of better ways to keep ourselves amused Mrs Jovović…” said Nikola, starting to walk again so that Helen had to keep stepping backwards.
Helen’s brows loft as she keeps in step with him. “Why, Mr. Jovović, I wasn’t aware you had those sorts of ideas,” she teased.
“Well you certainly didn’t marry me for my money,” he replies, moving his hands to her waist to navigate her around an oncoming group of people.
He’s a bit lost, actually, and has no idea where they’re supposed to be going.
Helen grins, leaning in close. “Let’s finish our tour. We paid to get in, after all.”
“Best make ourselves more respectable then,” he said, lifting his hands up to hers before removing them from his shoulder.
They were approaching the African section of the zoo. Nikola liked dangerous things and so started to steer them in that direction.
Helen hoped that Nikola didn’t get the urge to swim with the hippos. As they walked through the exhibit, Helen slipped her hand into Nikola’s twining her fingers in his.
“Having fun, Mr. Jovović?”
“Now I am,” he replied, spying the cheetah enclosure approaching. He had a fondness for fellow sharp-clawed species.
It didn’t escape him that she was holding his hand – and not just holding it – intertwining her fingers in his like a lover would – not that they were.
With her, he felt like he was walking through some kind of mirage – one that might shimmer and vanish if he analysed it too closely.
A bit more electricity cracked off him – just a tiny spark that she wouldn’t notice. He would have to make a point of controlling that. It wouldn’t do to wear his emotions on his sleeve like that.
The cheetah enclosure was several metres below them, protected by a fence running at waist height. Nikola lifted his hands up to rest on the fence, naturally bringing Helen’s with it.
If not for her watch, the little static shock would’ve gone unnoticed. At the tiny crack, Helen jerked her eyes to the man beside her, a warm, perhaps slightly flirtation expression settled over her features.
Noting the way in which Nikola’s eyes lit when they fell on the creatures with claws and fangs, Helen resolved to keep her grip firm. She may even retrieve the child harness from her shoulder bag and tether him once more.
Honestly, Nikola was on his best behaviour this time – content to watch the small shifting of tall, bronze grass where he could just make out the slinking form of the cat.
That was – of course, until something completely out of his control happened.
They hadn’t seen the very large, well marked sign that said,
DO NOT LEAN ON FENCE
and so were surprised when it suddenly screeched, bent – and sent them flying through the air towards the enclosure with its shifty grass.
“Ni-Nikola!” Helen barley managed before the last syllable extended into a cry as the toppled into the swaying savannah grass.
Urmph… Yeah, that stung a bit.
After a moment, Nikola rolled over and withdrew a sharp stick that had staked him through his ribcage with considerable scorn.
“Nice,” he hissed, tossing the bloodied stick aside before scanning the grass of Helen. It was difficult to see anything but the rustling five-foot grass.
“Helen?” he called.